Jeremy Werner

Lou's court

Illinois names State Farm Center court after program's winningest coach Lou Henson

CHAMPAIGN - The new State Farm Center court will have Lou Henson's name written all over it.

The Illinois athletic department announced Monday that the State Farm Center court will now be named Lou Henson Court.

"I feel fortunate to get this honor," Henson said. "It means a lot to me. I hope the fans enjoy it."

"The University of Illinois is extremely honored to recognize one of our most iconic figures with the naming of Lou Henson Court," Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said in a statement. "Lou has made an incredible impact and contribution to Fighting Illini basketball and the University. One of the most humble individuals you could ever know, Lou and Mary are recognized wherever they are at and treat everyone they meet with great respect. The current renovation project at State Farm Center would probably not be possible if not for the success led by Coach Henson here at Illinois. This is a fitting tribute to one of the all-time great coaches and people to be associated with Illinois."

The court features a specially designed logo on either side of the court. Henson's signature on the floor is accented by his patented orange blazer and a pair of wings as a nod to the Flyin' Illini of 1989, his greatest Fighting Illini team.

courtesy University of Illinois athletics

"I've seen a lot of courst named after coaches, but I've never seen anything like this," Henson said. "Whoever thought of the jacket or the coat being on the floor, that's a great idea."

Thomas said the athletic department had the opportunity to fund-raise by selling the court naming rights but did not go that route.

"I thought there were other ways to balance that out," Thomas said. "And I felt that that shouldn't trump someone like Lou, whose name was deserving to be on that floor due to his -- we can say 21 years of service. But let's face it after Lou retired, he's still been engaged in the community. ...There's also folks that think that folks who are going to have their name on the floor can maybe go through some kind of fund-raising effort to help pay for that opportunity. I'm completely opposed to that. I don't think that's the way you go about honoring somebody, by asking them to raise money for that to happen."

Henson, 83, was diagnosed with a bone marrow disorder in June and is undergoing chemotherapy. He wore blue medical gloves and a blue surgical face mask during Monday's announcement ceremony to match his orange blazer.

"I'm doing pretty well," Henson said. "I'll be on chemo, of course, with the treatment for now. But I'm doing pretty well. I think I'm going to be OK."

Henson, who will be a 2015 inductee into the National College Basketball Hall of Fame, is the Illini program's winningest coach. He amassed a 423-224 record over 21 seasons from 1975-1996, including 12 NCAA Tournament appearances and the 1989 Final Four. He ranks fifth all-time among Big Ten coaches in wins and conference wins (214).

Prior to his arrival at Illinois, Henson -- an Oklahoma native -- spent four seasons at homestate Hardin-Simmons, accruing a 67-36 record. He then spen nine seasons at New Mexico State (1966-1975) and led the Aggies to six NCAA Tournament appearances, including the program's only Final Four appearance (1970). He returned to Las Cruces after leaving Illinois in 1997, first on an interim basis, and coached the Aggies for eight more seasons, which included an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1999.

Henson's 779 wins ranks 16th all-time among Division I men's basketball coaches.

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