A couple of weeks ago, the UI and our community lost a legend — Lou Henson (1932-2020), who passed away. Our local newspaper — The News Gazette — ran a front-page story and some additional sections of memorial stories on him

I came to UI near the end of Mr. Henson’s legendary UI basketball coaching career, so I did not have much firsthand interactions with him. However, as a UI World Culture and Heritage Museum curator, I developed my personal interest in the UI and our local cultural history and art.

Reading local newspapers became one of my exciting social and cultural interactions and an important part of my daily life. Through these social and cultural activities, I got to know one of The News-Gazette photo journalists, Robert K. O’Daniell. Due to our common interests in photo journalism and in art, I had the opportunity to curate a needle art exhibition in O’Daniell’s private Prairie Boatwork Art Gallery in Mahomet in 2005.

Wang column Aug. 12

An archive photo by Robert K. O’Daniell for The News Gazette and in Dr. Ian Wang’s UI art collection.


I also collected 13 photography prints from his solo photography art exhibition at Heartland Art Gallery in 2013 to add to my UI and local art collections. I remember one of these photographs is his most exiting shot that came during a UI basketball game. He titled the photo, “No Basket” — a photo he is still proud of himself for taking more than two decades later.

In the photo caption, O’Daniell wrote: “(CU-2) Champaign, ILL Dec. 8, (1989) - No Basket – University of Illinois guards Steve Bardo (35) and Kendall Gill (13) break up a drive to the basket by Indiana State’s Luke Gross (43). University of ILL leads the Indiana State team by a wide margin in the second half.” O’Daniell told me that game was one of the fascinating ones he photographed during Mr. Henson’s career as UI basketball coach.

 In recent weeks I found reading through those commemorative stories in The News-Gazette about Lou Henson fascinating. One of the examples is former UI swimmer Doug McConnell’s recalling his personal experience with Mr. Henson: “Lou Henson is what a coach should be: A teacher. Not just a teacher of basketball, or of swimming, or of anything they ostensibly coach, but of being a good person, a good teammate and a gentleman. In Lou’s case, both a gentleman and a gentle man. I will never forget him and will always be grateful to him.”

I was particularly inspired by what McConnell concluded and shared with us: “College years are a time to learn about the world and to grow up, part of which is learning how (to) make assessments about people to admire and to avoid. I was smart enough to know to admire men like Lou Henson.”

McConnell’s advice to young people reminds me what my father taught me when I was a teenager about making friends and about associating with other people, “A real good friend could be a role model and benefit you for a whole life, but a bad friend may cost you and trouble you for the rest of your life!”  

Interestingly and significantly, in the book “Confucius Said It First,” author Dr. Tehyi Hsieh retold the story that more than 2,500 years ago, Confucius told his disciple that if three people are walking together (including Confucius himself), any of them must be his teacher, “If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher.”

His disciple could not understand why and how any of these two ordinary people walking together with his master Confucius could be his teacher, because Confucius was regarded as the greatest philosopher and educator in the nation. Looking at his disciple’s confused face, Confucius explained, “I will pick out the good points from the one and imitate them; and the bad points in the other, and correct them in myself.”  

Essentially, what Coach Henson and all the above masters tried to do was to advise young people to associate with good people, learn from their successes and to avoid bad people and their mistakes.

Dr. Ian Wang is the curator of the Spurlock Museum and may be contacted by email at wangyu@illinois.edu