Nikki McCray-Penson, who has passed away at the age of 51, saw success as a college and pro player and as a coach, making her an unforgettable member of the women’s basketball community.
She was the fifth-leading scorer on the 1996 women’s Dream Team, averaged 15.2 points per game for the 1995 Tennessee team that went to the national championship game and was a three-time WNBA All-Star Game starter with the Washington Mystics. That’s a very accomplished resume. When her death was announced on Friday, every corner of the women’s basketball community that she touched had something positive to say about her.
We are deeply saddened by the passing of two-time Olympic gold medalist Nikki McCray-Penson.— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) July 7, 2023
Our sister & our friend, Nikki was more than a champion.
USA Basketball extends its condolences to the McCray & Penson families in this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/zsI0z0nnnD
Heartbroken to learn of Nikki McCray-Penson’s passing.— Lady Vols Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) July 7, 2023
Nikki was a force in women’s basketball, both as a player and as a coach, and was a beloved member of the Lady Vol sisterhood.
Our thoughts and prayers are with her family. She will be sorely missed.
We are heartbroken to hear of the passing of former Mystics player Nikki McCray-Penson.— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) July 7, 2023
A 2x Olympian, Nikki lit up every room she walked in.
We send our deepest condolences to her family. pic.twitter.com/bNp1LYx9Nt
She only lost one SEC regular-season game in her entire career at Tennessee, going 122-11 overall. As a junior in 1994, she averaged 16.3 points, seven rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals. She was the SEC Player of the Year as both a junior and senior.
She averaged 9.4 points for the Dream Team en route to winning the gold medal. Then, as a WNBA rookie in 1998, she averaged career bests of 17.7 points, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals for the Mystics. She made the All-Star Game the next three years in a row, averaging 17.5, 15.5 and 11 points, respectively. During this run of WNBA excellence, she captured her second gold medal with Team USA in 2000.
She then played for the Indiana Fever in 2002 and 2003, before closing her WNBA career in Phoenix (2004), San Antonio (2005) and Chicago (2006).
Right after her retirement, she entered coaching as an assistant at Western Kentucky. In 2008-09, she moved over to South Carolina, where she was an assistant under Team USA teammate Dawn Staley at the beginning of Staley’s tenure in Columbia. She stayed with the Gamecocks through their first national championship-winning season of 2017.
The next year, she became the head coach at Old Dominion; she would go 45-16 over her final two seasons there (2019 and 2020). She then returned to the SEC as the head coach at Mississippi State, a program that had recently been to two national championship games (2017 and 2018). She led the Bulldogs to a 10-9 record in her one year in Starkville (2021). She was an assistant at Rutgers this past season.
McCray-Penson was born in Collierville, Tennessee. In 2012, she made it to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She is a true basketball legend and will be missed.