Tragic Passing of Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Nikki McCray-Penson at 51

-by GreatAgain Webstories

Nikki McCray-Penson, a remarkable individual who achieved Olympic gold twice and earned the title of former ABL MVP, has tragically passed away at the age of 51. Last season, McCray-Penson served as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Rutgers, and the university has officially confirmed her untimely demise. She bravely fought breast cancer after being diagnosed in 2013.

From 2008 to 2017, McCray-Penson joined forces with Dawn Staley as an assistant coach at South Carolina, where she played an instrumental role in securing the Gamecocks’ first national championship in 2017. Her contributions extended beyond the collegiate level, as she also won gold medals with the U.S. women’s basketball team at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Notably, the 1996 Olympic team was a catalyst for the establishment of the WNBA and ABL. McCray-Penson showcased her exceptional skills in the ABL, where she earned the prestigious MVP title in 1997, before transitioning to the WNBA. During her time with the Washington Mystics, she was a three-time All-Star.

The Washington Mystics expressed their deep admiration for McCray-Penson, stating that she epitomized the potential that passion for the game and unwavering dedication can unlock. Former Mystics coach Mike Thibault shared heartfelt sentiments, describing her as a beloved figure in Washington, D.C., who brought immense joy to her extensive network of friends and admirers. He concluded with a poignant message: “Rest in peace, Nikki.”

McCray-Penson enjoyed a successful eight-season career in the WNBA before retiring in 2006. Following her playing days, she embarked on a coaching journey, initially serving as an assistant coach at Western Kentucky for three seasons. Subsequently, McCray-Penson assumed the head coaching role at Old Dominion, where she achieved a remarkable 24-6 record in 2020. After a year at Mississippi State, she made the difficult decision to step down due to health reasons, only to return to coaching at Rutgers last season.

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