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Nikki McCray-Penson, a former ODU women’s basketball coach, dies at age 51

Olympic gold winner Nikki McCray-Penson, a former head coach of the women’s basketball team at Old Dominion University, passed away on Thursday. It was a 51-year-old woman.

It’s difficult to express the devastation that Nikki McCray-Penson’s passing has caused for those of us connected to ODU. Since Nikki reached the peak of achievement on the largest stages in the world as a player and a coach, she left a lasting impression on the sport of basketball worldwide, according to ODU Director of Athletics Wood Selig. “I was smitten with Nikki the moment I laid eyes on her., I was confident that she would be as successful as she was as an athlete as a coach. Everyone who was around her was improved and inspired to try more to meet the high standard of perfection that Nikki constantly demanded through her drive, passion, and enthusiasm for the game. It is a tragedy that coach McCray-Penson won’t be able to finish out her coaching career for the benefit of the world and present and future student-athletes. Thomas, Nikki’s husband, and Thomas Jr. are currently in the hearts and prayers of every Monarch. Today’s ODU women’s basketball team is stronger as a result of Nikki and her family’s numerous efforts when they were in Norfolk.

Over the course of three seasons, McCray-Penson led the Monarchs to a 53-40 record. Before the COVID-19 forced the end of the 2019–20 season, McCray-Penson guided ODU to a 24-6 record and a sure NCAA tournament spot. pandemic.

” pandemicThe loss of Nikki McCray-Penson, a former teammate and friend, pained me, according to DeLisha Milton-Jones, head coach of ODU women’s Basketball: “Nikki bravely fought hard for others on and off the court, and her legacy will last a lifetime.” She was a fantastic person, basketball player, coach, and mentor to me and many other female players. Her absence will be felt keenly.

The McCray-Penson ignited a turnaround that saw the Monarchs finish 21-11 and get a spot to the WNIT after finishing 8-23 in her debut season in 2017–18.

McCray-Penson agreed to become Mississippi State’s head coach after the 2019–20 campaign. She led the Bulldogs for just one season before resigning due to health issues. For the 2022–23 season, she returned to coaching and finished her first campaign at Rutgers as an assistant coach..

2013 saw the discovery of her breast cancer. However, she was certified cancer-free nine months later after enduring surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation..

The Tennessean reported on Friday that she fought pneumonia and a return of cancer before passing away.

“The loss of Nikki McCray breaks my heart, said ODU great and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Nancy Lieberman. She was a fantastic mother who excelled in our sport from Tennessee to the USA Olympic teams before transferring her wisdom and warmth to the coaching ranks. We have all improved as a result of knowing her and having Nikki in our lives. Today, the ODU Monarch family is suffering because of this lovely woman. May she find eternal peace..”

After spending two seasons in the American Basketball League, McCray-Penson played in the WNBA for nine. She was crowned the league’s MVP as a rookie after leading the Columbus Quest to the 1996–1997 ABL title. becoming a WNBA player Washington Mystics in 1998, McCray-Penson was the team’s leading scorer in each of her first two seasons and played in the WNBA All-Star game three times in her four years in Washington.

McCray-Penson continued to play in the WNBA for a further five seasons, retiring at the end of the 2006 campaign after playing for the Phoenix Mercury, Chicago Sky, San Antonio Silver Stars, and Indiana Fever in addition to one season each with the other teams. She concluded her WNBA career in 24th place overall with 2,528 points..

In 1996 and 2000, McCray-Penson assisted in guiding the American team to Olympic gold medals.

During her four years of collegiate competition at Tennessee under the late Pat Summitt, McCray-Penson led the Lady Vols to a 122-11 record, three SEC regular-season championships, two conference tournament victories, and four NCAA tournament trips. In her junior and senior years, McCray-Penson received the honours of being selected an All-American and SEC Player of the Year..

McCray-Penson earned a Bachelor of Science in teaching from Tennessee in 1995.

McCray-Penson played professionally for 11 years before spending two seasons as an assistant head coach at Western Kentucky, where Selig served as the athletic director. She assisted in guiding the Lady Toppers to a 49-17 record, which includes a 2006–07 WNIT semifinal participation, a 2007–08 Sun Belt Tournament victory, and an NCAA tournament entry. She later relocated to South Carolina and took on a similar role there, aiding the Gamecocks to four consecutive No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, the first for the team since 2014. The Gamecocks made the event’s Sweet 16 in five of their previous six seasons before making their first NCAA Final Four in 2015. In the USA Today Coaches Poll, South Carolina finished the 2016–17 season with the greatest final national rating of school history, at the top.


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