Former Old Dominion University women’s basketball head coach and two-time Olympic gold medalist Nikki McCray-Penson has sadly passed away at the age of 51. A titan in the basketball world, McCray-Penson’s contributions on and off the court are a testament to her passion for the game and her dedication to inspiring others.
A Remarkable Legacy: From Player to Coach
Nội Dung Bài Viết:
McCray-Penson’s influence transcended borders, making a lasting impact on basketball globally. From her earliest days as a player to her time as a coach, her impact was unparalleled.
Nikki McCray-Penson: The Athlete
McCray-Penson’s talent was evident from her early years. In her four-year college career playing for the late Pat Summitt at Tennessee, McCray-Penson led the Lady Vols to a 122-11 record, three SEC regular-season titles, two conference tournament championships and four NCAA tournament appearances. Recognized for her outstanding performance, McCray-Penson was named an All-American and SEC Player of the Year in her junior and senior years.
Her basketball career did not stop at college level. After a two-year stint in the American Basketball League, McCray-Penson went on to play for nine seasons in the WNBA, playing with several teams including the Indiana Fever, Phoenix Mercury, San Antonio Silver Stars, and Chicago Sky. Her remarkable career saw her scoring a total of 2,528 points, landing her at 24th on the WNBA’s career scoring list.
McCray-Penson’s talent also led her to represent the U.S. on the world’s biggest stage. She helped secure Olympic gold medals for the country in 1996 and 2000.
Nikki McCray-Penson: The Coach
After a successful career as an athlete, McCray-Penson transitioned into coaching, beginning at Western Kentucky as an assistant head coach. Here, she guided the Lady Toppers to a 49-17 record and a berth in the NCAA tournament. She later moved to South Carolina, helping the Gamecocks secure four straight NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds.
McCray-Penson’s coaching expertise eventually led her to Old Dominion University. During her time as the head coach, she led the Monarchs to a 53-40 record over three seasons, including a 24-6 record and a likely berth in the NCAA tournament in the 2019-20 season.
McCray-Penson’s Impact at ODU
Wood Selig, ODU Director of Athletics, expressed the grief and loss experienced by the university and the global basketball community. “It’s a challenge to put into words how devastating the news of Nikki McCray-Penson’s death is for all of us associated with ODU,” he said.
At ODU, McCray-Penson was known for her drive, passion, and enthusiasm. Her legacy will be preserved in the work ethic she instilled in her players, the high standard of excellence she set, and the culture of love for the game she fostered.
Following her stint at ODU, McCray-Penson accepted the head coaching position at Mississippi State. After coaching the Bulldogs for one season, she stepped down due to health reasons. In the 2022-23 season, she completed her first season as an assistant coach at Rutgers.
A Fighter On and Off the Court
In 2013, McCray-Penson was diagnosed with breast cancer. She battled the disease with the same strength and determination she displayed on the court. After surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, she was declared cancer-free nine months later. Unfortunately, she recently succumbed to a recurrence of cancer and a bout of pneumonia.
McCray-Penson’s legacy extends far beyond her athletic and coaching career. Fellow athletes, friends, and those she mentored mourn her passing. ODU women’s basketball head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones, a former teammate and friend, praised her lasting legacy. “Nikki courageously fought hard for others on and off the court, and her legacy will be lasting. She was a tremendous person, teammate, coach and mentor.”
The loss of McCray-Penson is deeply felt within the ODU community and the wider world of basketball. But as we grieve, we also celebrate a remarkable life that was marked by resilience, passion, and an unwavering love for the game of basketball. Today, we remember Nikki McCray-Penson: an athlete, a coach, a mentor, and an inspiration.