KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — When he arrived at Illinois in 1975, the first thing Lou Henson did was preach patience.
The new coach wanted to build the Fighting Illini into a national contender, but he wanted to do it with in-state prospects, even if it’d take a while. So that first year, Henson and his young assistants met with more than 400 high school coaches, building relationships for the future.
It took five years before they paid off, and even then it was a trip to the NIT. It wasn’t until 1981 that Henson finally took his team to the NCAA tournament. But with the foundation laid, Henson would take them to 11 more tournaments and a Final Four appearance in 1989, along the way becoming one of the most respected tacticians in the college game.
On Tuesday, he learned he was headed for the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Henson will be joined in this year’s class by fellow coaches Don Donoher of Dayton and C. Felton “Zip” Gayles of Langston, and five players: Ohio State All-American John Havlicek, Indiana standout Quinn Buckner, Kansas State star Rolando Blackman, North Carolina trailblazer Charlie Scott and Long Beach State star Ed Ratleff.
They will be enshrined Nov. 20 during a ceremony at the Arvest Bank Theatre in Kansas City.
“Don Donoher and Lou Henson took their teams to the NCAA Final Four while Zip Gayles was a trailblazer and role model for athletes and coaches,” said Reggie Minton, the deputy executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and chair of the Hall of Fame selection panel. “The men selected as players include some great all-around athletes who helped lead their teams to championships in the NCAA, Olympic Games and the NBA.”
Henson began his coaching career at Hardin-Simmons, then built a perennial winner at New Mexico State. But it wasn’t until he arrived at Illinois that he established a powerhouse, and even then, it was only after the kind of patience that few coaches are granted these days.
“We had a lot of great talent in Illinois, and I said, ‘Look, we’re not going to win for a while,'” Henson recalled, “but we’re going to try to build relations in our state. And we did.”
By the time he took the Fighting Illini to the Final Four, where they fell to Big Ten rival Michigan, all of his starters had grown up in Chicago or elsewhere in the state.
Henson had plenty of opportunities over the years to coach against Donoher, his fellow Hall of Fame inductee. Donoher spent his entire 25-year career at Dayton, leading the Flyers to eight NCAA tournaments and the 1967 title game, where they lost to John Wooden and UCLA.
Gayles also coached football and baseball for Langston. He won nearly 600 games in basketball with teams that included longtime Harlem Globetrotters star Marques Haynes.
Among the players in this year’s Hall of Fame class is a pair whose iconic coaches recently passed away: Scott, who was North Carolina’s first black scholarship player for Dean Smith, and Ratleff, who starred in the 1970s for Jerry Tarkanian at Long Beach State.
Blackman was the Big Eight player of the year for Kansas State before embarking on a 13-year NBA career with the Mavericks and Knicks; Buckner was a member of Bob Knight’s national title team at Indiana in 1976 before winning NBA and Olympic titles; and Havlicek helped the Buckeyes win a national title before winning eight NBA titles over a 16-year career with the Celtics.
The latest round of inductees will follow a star-studded class from last year that included former LSU standout Shaquille O’Neal and Duke icon Grant Hill.
“I still think they made a mistake,” Henson said, offering a good-natured laugh. “There are a lot of people out there that deserve it more than me.”
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