We’ve had some fantastic guests join BTN’s Take Ten Podcast so far, but never a Hall of Famer.
Thankfully, legendary college basketball head coach Lou Henson was kind enough to sit down with me to reflect on his lengthy Hall of Fame career at both New Mexico State and Illinois. Lou is the all-time wins leader at both schools, led both to a Final Four and also has the home court named in his honor at both schools’ home arenas. He also played a major role in integrating the first college team he ever coached, and we get into many of his experiences and memories throughout the discussion.
He even declared a clear winner in Illinois’ fans favorite water cooler debate: Who would win (1989 Flyin’ Illini vs. 2005 National Runner-Ups) between the two best teams in Illini history?
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I pulled some snippets from the interview with Lou Henson below, so if you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, skip around and check these out:
(Skip to 4:12) On how he insisted that Hardin-Simmons University—his first college head coaching opportunity—integrate their team with African-American players before he took the job.
(7:08) “I never thought it would happen.” On getting a college coaching job while he was coaching high school.
(7:44) On his favorite memories from coaching at New Mexico State, including making the Final Four in 1970.
(11:23) On what led to him taking the job at Illinois in 1975 after an entire life and career out West, despite a competing offer from Oklahoma. His wife wanted him to take the Illini job, so “It was Illinois or a divorce.”
(14:50) On not accepting a salary during his return stint at New Mexico State:
(17:16) On the doubts in his mind that he’d made the wrong decision in choosing Illinois after missing the NCAA tournament during his first several years in Champaign.
(22:52) On his favorite memory from the 1989 Final Four season.
(25:05) On recruiting Chicago Simeon’s Benji Wilson before he was shot and killed, and visiting with Wilson’s family in the aftermath of his death.
(26:25) On if his 1989 team would have beaten another iconic Illinois team: the 2005 National Runner-Up.
(28:06) On how he and his staff placed a heavy emphasis on relationships with high schools within the state, and how that strategy differs from modern recruiting tactics.
(28:04) On the coaching prowess of the Big Ten in the 1980s—which was stacked with Hall of Fame coaches—compared to college coaches of today in the conference.
(30:13) On the roots of the Orange Krush, the charitable Illinois student section that was founded in his basement and exists to this day.
(38:11) On the future of Illinois basketball under Brad Underwood: “He’s the one I wanted.”