LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO (KTSM) — Finally, the greatest coach in New Mexico State history will get his shot.
Lou Henson, the legendary Aggie basketball coach that led NMSU to the 1970 Final 4, was one of the nominees for the Class of 2021 announced by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
Henson, who died at the age of 88 on July 25, 2020, will finally get his chance to join other Borderland hoops legends Don Haskins and the 1966 Texas Western basketball team in the Naismith Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.
“Obviously, this is the pinnacle of Hall of Fames,” New Mexico State Director of Athletics Mario Moccia told KTSM. “I think his record speaks for itself, especially going to the Final 4 with two different institutions. I’m just hoping coach gets in on the first ballot. I think he is more than deserving and I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I’m just very pleased.”
Henson’s resume is extensive; he coached college basketball for over 40 years finished with an overall record of 779-422, currently ranking him 13th all-time for NCAA Division I coaching wins.
He is also one of just 14 coaches in the history of college basketball to lead two or more different programs to the Final 4. In addition to taking NMSU to its only Final 4 in program history in 1970, Henson and the Illinois Fighting Illini went to the 1989 Final 4.
According to Moccia, the push to get Henson into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was a combined effort by both NMSU and Illinois, as well as multiple other parties.
New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was part of the effort to finally get Henson his nomination, writing a letter to the Naismith Hall of Fame after his death on Henson’s behalf.
“He was strict, but you have to understand at 18 or 19-years-old, you do need some guidance,” said former Aggie Jeff Smith at the time of Henson’s death. Smith was a member of the Final Four team in 1970. “I took his guidance, the things I learned from him, into my everyday life and into my business life as well.”
Joining Henson on the list of first-time nominees were some basketball giants. Paul Pierce, Doug Collins, former New Mexico Lobos star Michael Cooper, Lauren Jackson, Howard Garfinkel, Val Ackerman and Yolanda Griffith were all on the first-time list.
Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Richard Hamilton, Bob Huggins, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, Jay Wright, Swin Cash and Becky Hammon, among others, are on the ballot for a second time.
Finalists for the Class of 2021 will be announced in March over the NBA’s All-Star Weekend and the entire class is scheduled to be unveiled in April at the Final 4.
The Class of 2021 will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame will be inducted in September of 2021.