EXCLUSIVE with Lou Henson, The Godfather of Modern Illini Athletics

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lou henson

Lou Henson is the El Pedrino, “The Godfather,” of modern University of Illinois athletics. If you’re a generation X or younger Illini, then you already know how Henson is the Illini legend of all legends in modern sports. Red Grange, Dick Butkus and George Halas all have their place in the pantheon, but Illinois is a basketball school, and both the home court, and the street which bisects the two revenue sport home venues bare his honorary namesake. 

At age 86, Henson was inducted into the second class of the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame Friday night, with a black tie gala at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

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We had an exclusive with the Illini sports Godfather on Father’s Day weekend.

“This is really outstanding. it’s great to be here as one of the best,” Henson told The Sports Bank.

Henson is the winningest coach at both New Mexico State (they named the court after him as well) and Illinois. Lou Henson went 423-224 during his 21-year-stay in Champaign, reaching the NCAA Tournament a dozen times, and winning 20 games on 11 occasions.

“This is great, a great honor, but having the court named after me that was super (too),” said Henson who currently lives in Champaign, and swims regularly at Bromley Hall on campus. He owns a tuxedo, but wore an orange sport coat instead to the gala, and that’s exactly how it should be. 

“This is my trademark,” Henson told me before then articulating the story of where he would get his orange clothing. He also explained how navy blue used to be the primary color at U of I, but how and why it got supplanted by orange.

lou henson

Henson is fifth all-time among Big Ten coaches in wins (423) and league wins (214). He’s also 16th on the all-time NCAA wins list, and one of just four coaches in NCAA history to record 200 or more wins at two DI schools.

He’s also just one of 14 coaches to lead two different teams to the Final Four. This is the fourth different Hall of Fame that’s inducted Lou Henson, as the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame honored him in 2015. 

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud and YouTube.

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