July 7, 2023 

Remembering women’s basketball Hall-of-Famer Nikki McCray-Penson

The women's basketball community mourns the loss of McCray-Penson

Former Mississippi State head coach and Tennessee basketball superstar Nikki McCray-Penson passed away at the age of 51. The Collierville, Tennessee native played at Tennessee from 1991-95 and earned numerous accolades including two SEC Player of the Year awards (1994, 1995) and two All-American nods. She also led the Lady Vols to two SEC Tournament championships, three SEC regular-season championships and a national championship game appearance in 1995. After Tennessee, McCray-Penson was named to the U.S. national team and was a member of women’s basketball Olympic gold medal teams in 1996 and 2000.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today. Join today

McCray-Penson left her mark on professional women’s basketball, earning the 1997 ABL MVP award and leading the Columbus Quest to an ABL championship. After two seasons in the ABL, she went on to play for nine seasons in the WNBA where she became a three-time All-Star and averaged 10.1 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

In 2006, McCray-Penson began her coaching career at Western Kentucky before joining her former Team USA teammate Dawn Staley at South Carolina where she remained through the team’s 2017 national championship run. In 2013, while she was an assistant coach at South Carolina, McCray-Penson was diagnosed with breast cancer.

McCray-Penson’s first head coaching job came in 2017 when she took over at Old Dominion. After compiling a 53-40 record leading the Monarchs, she took over at Mississippi State in 2020. She resigned after one season citing “unspecified health concerns she hoped were behind her.” After an eight-month break from coaching, she joined Rutgers as an assistant coach in June 2022.

“Today is deeply sad and [an] emotional day for everyone who knew and loved Nikki,” Rutgers head coach Coquese Washington said in a team-issued press release. “Nikki had a big smile and an even bigger heart. She was full of life, energy, and was so much fun to be around. Nikki touched the lives of many because she made it her mission to uplift others and help them achieve whatever dreams and goals they expressed. She was so devoted to her husband and son, and still gave all of herself to everyone in the program. We will miss her dearly but will keep Nikki’s memory alive in our hearts.”

The basketball community reacted to McCray-Penson’s passing with colleagues and players paying their respects to the celebrated coach.

Tennessee forward Rickea Jackson, who played under McCray-Penson at Mississippi State, tweeted about her relationship with her former coach.

Former South Carolina player Tiffany Mitchell tweeted about McCray-Penson’s impact and called her a “true fighter.”

Two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, who was a part of South Carolina’s 2017 national championship team, expressed her love for her former coach.

McCray-Penson was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012 and will long be remembered for her contributions to the sport as both a player and a coach.

Written by Vishakya Deshpande

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.