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  • Jordan Banegas

It’s time to Rename the Pan Am After Henson

Lou Henson returned to NM State following an incredibly successful tenure at Hardin Simmons and quickly began turning the basketball program into a perennial winner. It soon became clear that the Aggies had outgrown the high school sized gym at Williams Hall, so much so that they were even playing home games at Cruces High. Lou was consulted greatly on the construction of his new home which is why many have dubbed it “The House that Lou Built.” And build it he did, into a college basketball mecca of the southwest. The Aggies success on their home-court was second to none in the region. Since its opening, the Aggies have a remarkable record of 647-155 and four undefeated seasons. It’s hosted many iconic games like the 1990 upset of #7 and eventual national champion, UNLV Runnin’ Rebels as well as bouts with NBA great Larry Bird and his #2 ranked Indiana State Sycamores.

Its parquet floor already dons the name of coaching legend Henson, it’s now time to grace the entire building with his iconic name. A gesture such as this is the least a school and community could do for a man who dedicated his life to the people of our state. If you need any more convincing that this is the right move to make, check out my blog on Henson’s five greatest basketball moments; few could even compare to these accomplishments and they’re all in the Hall of Fame.

At the time that the Pan Am was built, it’s 13,071 seat capacity made it the largest arena on I-10 between Phoenix and Houston. Barbara Hubbard’s promotional abilities continue to put the Pan Am on the map as it was a stop on the tours for anyone who was somebody including Janet Jackson, ACDC, George Strait and many others. The arena’s lore goes beyond its unique basketball history.

When the NM State basketball program was in ruins following an academic fraud scandal in the mid-nineties, the university and program were looking for a lifeline to pull them out of the mess that nearly earned them the vaunted “death penalty” from the NCAA, meaning termination of the entire program. That lifeline was found in the form of a leader, Coach Henson. Wanting to donate his time to the program, Henson requested to take the job for nothing but was prevented by state law. The school and coach settled on a $1 per month salary to appease all parties. "I got paid every other month," Henson once told reporters in 2004. "I got three checks, and they were for 77 cents of net pay. I still have them." Henson went on to coach the Aggies to yet another NCAA tournament appearance and ended his career with at the time a top ten 779 wins.

There’s no one who’s done more for NM State athletics, no one with more success under the roof of the Pan American Center, no one who is as revered as Coach Henson in the entire NM State community. It’s time to honor him the best way we can; rename the Pan American Center after the man who built it. We’re really not asking for much.

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