Olympic gold-medalist, former South Carolina assistant Nikki McCray-Penson dies at 51
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.
“It’s hard to think about Nikki’s passing because all I can see is how fully she lived.” Dawn Staley said in a statement. “From her days as a brash rookie in USA Basketball to becoming my friend and colleague to the way she mentored young players, Nikki did everything with her whole heart. Every teammate, every coach, every player who spent time with her knew first that she cared about them as a person, and everything else came from that place. Her presence was something you could feel before you saw her because she had such light, such positive energy inside her no matter what was going on. I am heartbroken that cancer has taken that light from us, but I know that she would want us to be the ones to carry it on in her absence. I pray we all have the strength to do that for her and her son Lil Thomas.”
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 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 eight seasons in the WNBA before retiring in 2006. 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.
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