SAVOY — Officially, the star of the show Monday was former Illinois men’s basketball great Kendall Gill, who hosted his annual benefit at the University of Illinois Golf Courses.
For 30 years, Flyin’ Illini charter member Gill has been raising money for Cunningham Children’s Home. Classy and kind, always a winning combination.
Gill received his fair share of hugs and handshakes. Just like every other time he comes back to C-U.
But the bulk of the attention went to Gill’s college mentor, Lou Henson. The winningest coach in school history attended Monday’s shindig with his wife Mary.
A parade of well-wishers stopped by where the Hensons were set up for pictures and a chance to chat. The Hensons remain the “first couple” of C-U.
“That’s the community,” Lou Henson said. “This is a great community. They love their sports. They love the former athletes.”
“And former coaches. And former coaches’ wives,” Mary Henson added.
Henson spent extended with current Illinois men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood.
Henson likes what he sees from the team, which is trying to rebound after a 21-loss season. Having Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvilii returning helps.
“I think Illinois basketball looks good,” Henson said.
The 87-year-old Henson has been a bit under the weather recently. But he was feeling good Monday.
“Everything’s going well,” Mary Henson said. “Lou’s getting stronger and walking better.”
Henson wasn’t going to miss a chance to see Gill.
“I’ll come as long as Kendall is coming,” Henson said.
He’s already looking ahead to the 2020 edition.
“I’ll be here next year,” Henson said.
Gill was thrilled to see Henson.
“It means everything to have Coach Henson here,” Gill said. “Coach Henson is one of the toughest human beings I have ever been around. We all know about his health struggles over the past couple years, but Coach finds a way, even when he’s not feeling well, to come out to the golf outing.
“In the back of my mind, I’m like ‘Coach is going to be here.’ He’s in great spirits. Even if he wasn’t feeling well, he wouldn’t let you know it.”
The Hensons have been an important part of Gill’s life. And the lives of his former teammates.
“We all still stay in touch with Coach and Mrs. Henson because they are our family,” Gill said. “We came in as boys and we left as men. A big reason for that is because of Coach Henson and his wife Mary.”
The Hensons are big Gill fans. Always have been. Always will be.
“Kendall has a lot of respect for the coaching staff, for teammates and the University of Illinois,” Lou Henson said. “It doesn’t surprise me that he comes back all the time.”
“Kendall has always been the star of our show for the dedication he has had to the Cunningham Children’s Home and both communities,” Mary Henson said. “It’s extraordinary.”
Another Hall call
On Aug. 12, the Hensons will travel to Norman, Okla., for his latest honor. The coach, an Okay native, is being inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
His class includes former Sooners football coach Bob Stoops, Pro Football Hall of Famer Will Shields and baseball standout Mickey Tettleton.
The Oklahoma Sports Hall is loaded with football players and coaches: Barry Sanders, Billy Sims, Barry Switzer and Jim Thorpe, to name a few.
Plenty of basketball representation exists, too. Henson joins Henry Iba, Bill Self, Eddie Sutton, Billy Tubbs, Wayman Tisdale and others.
“It’s really cool,” Mary Henson said.
The Hensons have more events to look forward to. In December, they will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.
“That’s a long time to be married to the same one,” Lou Henson said.
Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.