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Athletics remembers Hall of Famer Jorgensen

December 2, 2013
Tom Jorgensen

Tom Jorgensen

Tom Jorgensen, a former Northern Illinois University men’s basketball head coach and NIU Athletics Hall of Famer, died Friday, Nov. 29 in Aurora, Colo. He was 78.

Jorgensen was the head coach of the NIU men’s basketball program from 1966-73, compiling a 96-71 record during his seven-year tenure. He helped produce a number of “firsts” in Huskie basketball history, including NIU’s first 20-win season (21-4 in 1971-72) and first appearance in the national rankings (No. 20 in the AP Poll on Jan. 18, 1972). On Jan. 4, 1972, Jorgensen and the Huskies produced another first when they defeated Bob Knight’s fifth-ranked Indiana Hoosiers, 85-71, to record the first win over a ranked opponent in school history.

Jorgensen led the Huskies to their first NCAA Division I league title in 1971-72 as they claimed the Midwestern Conference crown. That season, Jim Bradley became the first All-American in NIU basketball history and Jorgensen was selected as the Midwestern Conference Coach of the Year.

Known for their wide-open offense, Jorgensen’s Huskies finished third nationally in scoring in back-to-back seasons, averaging 92.7 points per game in 1970-71 and 95.2 points per contest in 1971-72. In his seven seasons as head coach at NIU, Jorgensen mentored five NBA/ABA Draft picks, including Jim Smith, who was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1969, becoming the first Huskie ever selected in the NBA Draft.

Jorgensen’s 1971-72 team was inducted in the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987 and Jorgensen was inducted as an individual in 1998. He was also elected to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association in 2001.

A native of Chicago, Jorgensen starred at Parker High School, averaging 24 points per game as a junior in 1951, leading Parker to the city championship. As a senior, Jorgensen was named All-Public League, All-City and All-State while averaging 30 points per game. On Feb. 24, 2002, Jorgensen was named one of the Top 50 Chicago Public League players of all-time by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jorgensen played college ball at the University of Michigan, starting all 66 games during his three-year varsity career (1953-56). As a senior in 1955-56, Jorgensen captained the Wolverines and averaged 14 points per game, earning All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition. After four seasons as a high school coach, Jorgensen began his collegiate coaching career at U-M, serving as an assistant from 1960-66. During his time on the Wolverine bench, Michigan won three consecutive Big Ten titles (1964, ’65, ’66) and reached a pair of Final Fours (1964, ’65), falling in the national championship game to UCLA in 1965.

Following his coaching career, Jorgensen worked as a full-time scout for the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic. He also worked as a color commentator for the Denver Nuggets.