Olympic gold-medalist, former Mississippi State coach Nikki McCray-Penson dead at 51

Published 1:34 pm Friday, July 7, 2023

Two-time Olympic gold-medalist and former ABL MVP Nikki McCray-Penson has died. She was 51.

McCray-Penson was an assistant women’s basketball coach at Rutgers last season and the school on Friday confirmed her death. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

She joined Dawn Staley as an assistant coach at South Carolina from 2008-17. She was part of the Gamecocks’ first national championship in 2017.

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“Heart hurts on this one,” former South Carolina star A’ja Wilson tweeted. “Such a fighter and warrior with the sweetest gentle soul! Coach McCray you’ve helped me in many many ways and you were a true gift from God! Truly will be missed! No more suffering no more pain! God got a good one.”

McCray-Penson won gold medals with the U.S. women’s basketball team at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. The 1996 team sparked the formation of the WNBA and ABL. She played in the ABL and won MVP honors in 1997 while leading the Columbus Quest to a championship before heading over to the WNBA. McCray-Penson was a three-time All-Star in that league while playing for the Washington Mystics.

She played until 2006 when she retired, with a stop in San Antonio along the way.

“She’s a competitor,” said Liberty coach Sandy Brondello, who coached her in San Antonio and played against her in the Olympics. “She just got out there and did it to the best of her ability. That’s really sad and tragic. Prayers go out to her family.”

She was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky for three seasons.

McCray-Penson then became the head coach at Old Dominion for three seasons, going 24-6 in 2020. She spent one year at Mississippi State before stepping down for health reasons and returned to coaching at Rutgers last season.

McCray-Penson played at Tennessee from 1991-95 under Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt. The guard was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and a two-time Kodak All-America standout during her junior and senior seasons for the Lady Vols.

She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. McCray-Penson is survived by her husband Thomas and son Thomas Jr.