Nikki McCray-Penson, a former ABL MVP and two-time Olympic gold champion, has died. She was 51 years old at the time of her death.
Rutgers University confirmed McCray-Penson’s passing on Friday. She served as an assistant women’s basketball coach there the previous season. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.
From 2008 until 2017, she worked with Dawn Staley at South Carolina as an assistant coach. In 2017, she played a major role in the Gamecocks’ first national title.
During the 1990s, McCray-Penson was a star for the Lady Vols in her home state of Tennessee. She later played in the ABL and WNBA and worked as a head coach in the NCAA.
During her time with South Carolina, she worked as Dawn Staley’s assistant and was a close friend and Olympic teammate. She served on Staley’s staff for the Gamecocks’ 2017 NCAA title victory. She soon accepted her first position as a head coach at Old Dominion.
McCray-Penson had 16 years of overall college coaching experience, including her final year at Rutgers. She also held the positions of head coach at Mississippi State and ODU. She departed the Monarchs after two consecutive 20-win seasons to become the head coach of the Bulldogs, who finished 10-9 in the COVID-19-affected 2020–2021 season. She resigned in October 2021 to concentrate on her health before the start of what would have been her second season at MSU.
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Following graduation from college, McCray-Penson was selected for the American national team, with whom she trained and toured from fall 1995 until the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996. The popularity and accomplishment of that American squad was regarded as the catalyst for the establishment of the WNBA in 1997.
McCray-Penson was a three-time All-Star during her nine years in the WNBA and won gold medals with Team USA in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics.