Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Henson, Williamson on the ballot for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2022

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Complete Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame publication

SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts – Two of the most iconic figures in NM State men’s basketball are once again eligible to join the pantheon of greats in the sport.

This week, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame press release announced that both the late Lou Henson and the late “Super” John Williamson were on the ballot for the 2022 Hall of Fame class.

A press conference will be held during the NBA All-Star Weekend slated for Friday, February 18 in Cleveland, Ohio, to announce the North American and Women’s Committee finalists for the Class of 2022. The Hall of Fame will also reveal the full enshrinement schedule at this time. The entire class of 2022, including those selected by the direct election committees, will be featured during the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans, Louisiana in early April.

The dedication ceremony will be held in Springfield, Massachusetts, September 9-10, 2022. Tickets for the Inauguration Ceremony of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2022 and various events related to the ceremony will be available at a later date.

Henson and Williamson are two of the 167 individuals or teams eligible for the Hall of Fame class of 2022.

Born in Okay, Oklahoma on January 10, 1932, Henson served on the NM State men’s basketball team three times from 1953-55. That playing career marked the beginning of one of the finest college basketball legacies in history, spanning half a century. After playing, Henson stayed in Las Cruces to begin his coaching career at Las Cruces High School. As the head coach of the college team from 1958-62, Henson and his crew won the state championships in 1959, 1960, and 1961 before entering the college coaching ranks. After serving four seasons as the head coach at Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, Henson returned to Las Cruces and was named NM State basketball coach prior to the start of the 1966–67 season.

During his first tenure as bank chief of the Aggies, which ran from 1966 to 1975, Henson helped the Aggies six times to advance to the NCAA tournament. However, it was Henson’s 1969-70 roster that set the standard for all aggie squads before or after. Led by the likes of Jimmy Collins, Sam Lacey and Charlie Criss, NM State began a magical run into the Final Four, where they lost to eventual national champions UCLA. The Aggies ended their season on a 27-3 record and made their presence known to basketball fans across the country.

After the 1974/75 season, Henson took the job as head coach at the University of Illinois, where he stayed for the next 21 seasons. In the 1988-89 campaign, Henson returned to the Final Four with the Fighting Illinois.

Shortly before the 1997/98 season, Henson returned to the city where his basketball coaching career began 40 years earlier to begin his second stint as head coach of NM State. That second run as leader of the Aggies lasted more than seven seasons and was highlighted by Big West titles in the regular season and conference in the 1998-99 season. The 1998-99 season also marked Henson’s final trip to the NCAA tournament as head coach. In the middle of the 2004/05 season, Henson had to finally retire due to his battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

All in all, Henson’s career continues to be considered one of the best in college basketball history. Upon retirement, his 289 NM State wins and 423 Illinois wins were most by a head coach at both institutions, and his 779 career wins rank 16 on the coaching list of all time. Henson passed away on July 29, 2020.

Henson is one of only 13 NCAA men’s basketball coaches to have racked up 200 or more wins at two different schools, and is also one of only 15 coaches to have led two teams to the Final Four. Henson also holds seats in four different Halls of Fame, including the US Bank / NM State Athletics Hall of Fame (1978), the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame (2015), the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame (2018), and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame (2019). In 2002, the courtyard at the Aggies Pan American Center was renamed Lou Henson Court in order to keep its vast legacy alive.

Two years after Henson had led the Aggies to the Final Four, he managed to recruit one of the best preparation players on the East Coast in Williamson. For two memorable seasons (1971-73) Williamson changed the lights on the scoreboard for the Aggies at breakneck speed. During its debut campaign at NM State in 1971-72, the New Haven, Connecticut product won First Team All-American (Basketball News) awards after finishing sixth with 27.1 points per game in the Nation had occupied. That season, Williamson failed to hit the 20 point mark in just one of the Aggies’ 25 tilts.

On January 17, 1972, Williamson hosted a spectacular west coast scoring show that led NM State to a 91-89 triumph in California with a 48-point breakout. That score remains the highest single-game number of any Aggies in the program’s history, and allowed the Aggies to claim one of their five victories a year over the current Pac-12 programs – Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, and Oregon .

In his final season with the Aggies (1972-73) Williamson recorded 27.2 points per game, the highest average in school history in a single season. The Atlanta Hawks noted the guard’s high score and selected Williamson with the 96th overall pick in the 1973 NBA Draft. While he didn’t make the Hawks’ list, that didn’t stop Williamson from embarking on an eight-year career in the ABA and the NBA.

Williamson was able to secure a squad place with the New York Nets of the ABA (now the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA) before the 1973-74 season. For his efforts, Williamson was named to the ABA All-Rookie Team in 1974.

With Erving and Williamson by their side, the Nets repeated themselves as ABA champions in 1976. That season marked the last of the Nets at the ABA level when they rose to the NBA the following year. Overall, Williamson played for three NBA teams over the course of his career, including the Indiana Pacers (1976-79), New Jersey Nets (1977-80) and the Washington Bullets (1979-91).

In total, Williamson scored 9,017 points, 1,274 rebounds and 1,441 assists in his professional career. On December 7, 1990, Williamson’s jersey number (23) was withdrawn by the Nets and to date he is one of only six players in franchise history to have their jersey number withdrawn. This group also includes Erving, Bill Melchionni, Jason Kidd, Drazen Petrovic and Buck Williams. Williamson died on November 30, 1996 after a long battle with kidney disease.

For full coverage of NM State Men’s Basketball as the Aggies continue their 2021-22 season, visit NMStateSports.com – the official home of Aggie Athletics – and follow the Aggies on Facebook (NM State Men’s Basketball), Twitter (@NMStateMBB) and Instagram (@NMStateMBB).

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