November 30, 2023

ABOVE PHOTO: OLD DOMINION WOMEN’S BASKETBALL COACH NIKKI MCCRAY-PENSON smiles in Norfolk, Va. Could 31, 2017. Two-time Olympic gold medalist and former ABL MVP Nikki McCray-Penson has died. She was 51. McCray-Penson was an assistant girls’s basketball coach at Rutgers final season and the college confirmed her loss of life, though the reason for her passing was not instantly identified. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot, File by way of AP) 

By Doug Feinburg


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

McCray-Penson was an assistant girls’s basketball coach at Rutgers final season and the college on Friday confirmed her loss of life. She was recognized with breast most cancers in 2013.

She joined coach Daybreak Staley as an assistant at South Carolina from 2008-17. She was a part of the Gamecocks’ first nationwide championship in 2017. They have been gold-medal teammates on the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“It’s arduous to consider Nikki’s passing as a result of all I can see is how absolutely she lived,” Staley mentioned in a press release. “From her days as a brash rookie in USA Basketball to changing into my good friend and colleague to the best way she mentored younger gamers, Nikki did all the things along with her complete coronary heart. … she had such gentle, such optimistic vitality inside her it doesn’t matter what was occurring. I’m heartbroken that most cancers has taken that gentle from us, however I do know that she would need us to be those to hold it on in her absence.”

McCray-Penson performed at Tennessee from 1991-95 beneath Corridor of Fame coach Pat Summitt. The purpose guard was a two-time SEC Participant of the 12 months and a two-time Kodak All-America standout throughout her junior and senior seasons for the Woman Vols. The workforce reached the Last 4 in 1995, dropping within the championship recreation to undefeated Connecticut.

The 1996 U.S. Olympic workforce sparked the formation of the WNBA and ABL (American Basketball League 1996-98). She received MVP honors in 1997 whereas main the ABL’s Columbus Quest to a championship earlier than heading over to the WNBA. McCray-Penson was a three-time All-Star in that league whereas enjoying for the Washington Mystics.

She performed till 2006 when she retired, with a cease in San Antonio alongside the best way.

“She’s a competitor,” mentioned New York Liberty coach Sandy Brondello, who coached her in San Antonio and performed towards her on the Australian Olympic workforce. “She simply obtained on the market and did it to the perfect of her means. That’s actually unhappy and tragic. Prayers exit to her household.”

McCray-Penson started her 16-year teaching profession as an assistant at Western Kentucky for 3 seasons from 2006-2008. After South Carolina received the NCAA title, she turned the pinnacle coach at Outdated Dominion in 2017, going 24-6 in 2020.

She spent one yr at Mississippi State earlier than stepping down for well being causes and returned as an assistant beneath coach Coquese Washington at Rutgers final season.

“Nikki had an enormous smile and a fair larger coronary heart,” Washington mentioned. “She was lively, vitality, and was a lot enjoyable to be round. Nikki touched the lives of many as a result of she made it her mission to uplift others and assist them obtain no matter goals and objectives they expressed.”

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