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Governor pledges $2 million to Aggie field house, dedicates Highway 28 in honor of Lou Henson

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Thursday pledged $2 million in state funds for a new field house for the New Mexico State University football team, and announced that historic New Mexico Highway 28 would be named in honor of retired Aggie basketball coach Lou Henson.

Gov. Bill Richardson greets retired NMSU basketball coach Lou Henson and his wife, Mary, after announcing that New Mexico Highway 28 is being named in Henson's honor. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

"There is one man in New Mexico who can beat me running for governor, and that's Lou Henson," Richardson said. "He is a legend ... He has done so much, not just for New Mexico but for intercollegiate athletics in this country."

After reading a proclamation declaring Feb. 3 to be Lou Henson Day in New Mexico, the governor announced the naming of the Lou Henson Highway "so that his memory is forever, so it's not just one day."

"There is a beautiful, historic highway that runs through the pecan groves and onion fields of Dona Ana County," he said. "It is the original highway from Las Cruces to El Paso ... A portion of this highway is part of the historic Camino Real ... This is one of the treasures of New Mexico's highway system, and I am naming this beautiful highway the Lou Henson Highway."

NMSU President Michael Martin called it "particularly fitting" that the historic highway be named for Henson, but he quipped: "I worry a little bit about someone saying 'Go down University and turn left onto Lou Henson.'"

It is the second road to be named for Henson, following a similar honor in Champaign, Ill., where he coached at the University of Illinois for 21 seasons before returning to NMSU. But Henson and his wife, Mary, joked that the street in Illinois is "a couple of blocks" long.

Henson, who has 779 career victories as a basketball coach, announced his retirement for health reasons last month.

"I guarantee you I didn't expect all of this," Henson told the crowd gathered at NMSU's Fulton Athletics Center for the announcement. "What really makes it nice is you, our friends, coming out today."

In announcing the capital outlay funds to help pay for a new field house, Richardson said the New Mexico State athletics program "needs a boost" as it joins the Western Athletic Conference this year.

"The university has been very good at recruiting private dollars to this program," he added. "Students agreed to raise their fees to help finance the renovation of the Pan Am Center. It's also important for the state to recognize the value of our universities, including athletic programs, so this is another step in the partnership that we're working together."

He said he would present a capital outlay package to the Legislature next week or the week after that will include "$2 million for this wonderful field house for the Aggie football team which is going to go undefeated next year."