AURORA, Colo. – Northern Illinois University Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Tom Jorgensen, the man who put the Huskies on the national map, into the Top 20, and into such historic college meccas as the Chicago Stadium, Madison Square Garden, and The Palestra, died Friday.
Jorgensen, who was 78, passed away in a local hospice after suffering a stroke Monday. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Known to his players, NIU fans, and townies as “Jorgy”, Jorgensen produced many significant program precedents – the first 20-victory season (21-4 in 1971-72), first triumph over a Big Ten Conference opponent (Michigan State in 1970-71), first victory over a Top 10 team (Indiana in 1971-72), the first Top 20 ranking (No. 20 on the Associated Press poll in 1971-72), first NBA draft pick (Jim Smith in 1969), first Division I league championship (Midwestern Conference in 1971-72), and first major-college All-American (Jim Bradley in 1971-72).
Jorgensen coached five individual NIU Athletics Hall of Famers (Bradley, Smith, Willie Hanson, Billy Harris, and Jerry Zielinski), five NBA-ABA draft selections, plus five Northern Illinois All-Century picks.
In seven seasons (1966 through 73), Jorgensen posted a 96-71 won-lost record at NIU. The Chicago native was an advocate of wide-open offenses, which ranked No. 3 in the NCAA at 92.7 points a game and 95.2 in 1970-71 and 1971-72, respectively.
Before his NIU tenure, Jorgensen served as an assistant to Dave Strack at Michigan for six seasons – including the Cazzie Russell era when the Wolverines captured three consecutive Big Ten championships (1963-65) and appeared in back-to-back NCAA Final Fours (1964-65).
A former Michigan team captain, Jorgensen started 66 consecutive games for the Maize and Blue (1953-56), plus averaged 14 points a game as a senior. As a prep senior, he led the Chicago Public League in scoring (30 points a game.) and won All-City and All-State honors at Parker High School (1951-52). Jorgensen was enshrined into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame (1977) and the NIU Hall of Fame (1998).
A former full-time NBA scout with the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic, Jorgensen also served as the color analyst for the ABA Denver Nuggets on KWGN-TV.