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Hall of Fame coach Lou Henson passes away at 88

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FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2015, file photo, former University of Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson acknowledges the crowd while taking his seat courtside during the dedication of the court in his name at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill. Henson, the basketball coach who led Illinois back into the national spotlight, has died at age 88. The school said Henson died Saturday, July, 25, 2020, and was buried on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Rick Danzl, File)

The sports world says goodbye to a legend. Former Illinois head basketball coach Lou Henson passed away on Saturday. A private funeral service was held in Champaign on Wednesday.

Henson is the winningest coach in the history of Illinois basketball. Leading the Illini to a 423-224 record, and 12 appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 1975-1996. His Flyin' Illini team from the 1988-89 season is one of the best in program history, making it all the way to the Final Four.

He also had two stints at New Mexico State, where he is also the winningest coach in program history, putting together a 308-157 record. He lead the Aggies to a Final Four appearance in 1970. His successful tenures at both universities will live on forever, as the courts at the State Farm Center and the Pan American Center are both named after him.

Henson's coaching success saw him inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. Three years later, Henson was inducted into the second class of the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.

Following a diagnosis with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Henson retired from coaching midway through the 2004-05 season. His 779 wins are the 33rd most in the history of college basketball.

Per a press release from the University of Illinois athletic department, here are statements on the loss of Coach Henson from Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman and head basketball coach Brad Underwood.

"Our Orange and Blue hearts are heavy," said Whitman. "We have lost an Illini icon. We have lost a role model, a friend, and a leader. We have lost our coach. Coach Henson may be gone, but the memories he provided us, and the legacy he created, will last forever. He was responsible for almost 800 wins in the record book and countless Fighting Illini moments frozen in time, but Coach Henson's true measure will be felt in the lives he touched – the lives of his former players, people on this campus, and friends in our broader community. We are all better for whatever time we were privileged to spend with Coach Lou, whether it was five minutes or 50 years. He made everyone feel like a friend. I so enjoyed my time with Coach these last five years, and I will miss him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mary, Lisa, Lori, Leigh Anne, and the entire Henson family. Their family will always be part of ours."
"It is a sad day for the Illinois Basketball family and Illini Nation as we mourn the passing of Lou Henson, the greatest coach in our program's proud history," said Underwood. "His achievements are legendary, but what is immeasurable are the countless lives he impacted during his 21 years in Champaign and 41 years in coaching. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Mary and their family, and the hundreds of players who were fortunate enough to be led by such a tremendous man and coach. Rest in peace to the best to ever wear the orange jacket; we'll miss you Coach."

The following statement was released today by University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen on the death of former Fighting Illini and National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Lou Henson:

“Lou Henson was the absolute embodiment of resilience, through both his long career as one of college basketball’s finest coaches and the years that followed as he dealt with serious illness that he refused to allow to define him. He was, as the many tributes to him attest, a deeply honorable man who understood that his role as coach included a responsibility to the many student-athletes whose lives he touched. Coach Henson and his wife Mary have also remained tireless benefactors to both the University of Illinois and the communities of Urbana and Champaign. We mourn his passing but we will continue to celebrate his legacy.”
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