There was very sad news on Friday as Rutgers women’s basketball assistant coach Nikki McCray-Penson passed away at the age of 51. She was reportedly reportedly battling cancer and a bout of pneumonia at the time of her death. She joined the Rutgers program last year and served one season under head coach Coquese Washington.
McCray-Penson was a basketball legend. She was a two-time SEC Player of the Year at Tennessee where she played for legendary coach Pat Summit. McCray-Penson was a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist as a player for Team USA. She played nine seasons in the WNBA and was a three-time All-Star. After she retired, McCray-Penson coached for almost two decades including a head coach at both Old Dominion and Mississippi State. She won a national championship as an assistant coach under Dawn Staley at South Carolina. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame among many other honors, her impact on the game is undeniable.
“Today is deeply sad and emotional day for everyone who knew and loved Nikki,” head coach Coquese Washington said. “Nikki had a big smile and an even bigger heart. She was full of life, energy, and was so much fun to be around. Nikki touched the lives of many because she made it her mission to uplift others and help them achieve whatever dreams and goals they expressed. She was so devoted to her husband and son, and still gave all of herself to everyone in the program. We will miss her dearly but will keep Nikki’s memory alive in our hearts.”
Here are several of many tributes honoring the life and legacy of Nikki McCray-Penson.
Former Olympic teammate and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley
It is with the heaviest of heart I have to post this…..thank you my little sister, my friend, my foxhole partner, my teammate, my fast food snacker, my basketball junkie, my fellow Olympian, my gold medalist and now my angel. God’s got you now….suffer no more Nik Nik. ❤️deeply pic.twitter.com/3t5LG7nOre
— dawnstaley (@dawnstaley) July 7, 2023
Former Rutgers player Abby Streeter
Rest In Peace . A true warrior. Thankful for our talks and the lessons . You made me a better & stronger person. Please keep rutgers WBB and her family in your prayers . 🙏🏻🤍 pic.twitter.com/8fzTuwjkV5
— streets🤘🏼 (@AbbyStreeter) July 7, 2023
Rutgers player Antonia Bates
The way my heart hurts 💔 https://t.co/F4XLPXtUsR
— Antonia Bates (@antoniabatess) July 7, 2023
Rutgers player Jillian Huerter
Rest in peace to the strongest person I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. The best mentor and role model I could’ve asked for in a coach.❤️🕊️ pic.twitter.com/aSTZqXNu8G
— Jillian Huerter (@JillianHuerter) July 7, 2023
Hometown of Collierville, Tennessee
The Town is saddened to hear about the passing of Nikki McCray-Penson. Nikki was one of the greatest athletes in the Town’s history who started her basketball career at Collierville High School then became a College All-American, WNBA All-Star, and two-time Olympic gold medalist. pic.twitter.com/4u6ft4CWnW
— Town of Collierville (@ColliervilleGov) July 7, 2023
Tennessee Women’s Basketball
Heartbroken to learn of Nikki McCray-Penson’s passing.
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.
Remembering #LVFL Nikki McCray-Penson
• 1994 SEC Player of the Year
• 1995 SEC Player of the Year
• 1,572 Career Points as a Lady Vol
• 5x SEC Champion
• 2x All-American
• 3x WNBA All-Star
• 2x Olympic Gold Medalist
• 2012 @WBHOF inductee
A Lady Vol Legend 🧡 pic.twitter.com/sI8vJDNMxR
— Lady Vols Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) July 7, 2023
— Lady Vols Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) July 7, 2023
Eric Thibault spent the first portion of his pregame press conference speaking on the passing of Nikki McCray-Penson.
— Tyler Byrum (@theTylerByrum) July 7, 2023
Our hearts are heavy as we learn of the passing of Nikki McCray-Penson. A beloved member of our WNBA family, Nikki was a 3x WNBA All-Star during her 8 seasons in the league.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Nikki’s family and loved ones at this time. pic.twitter.com/PkCnLiSgNQ
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 7, 2023
We are deeply saddened by the passing of two-time Olympic gold medalist Nikki McCray-Penson.
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
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) July 7, 2023
Former South Carolina star and WNBA MVP A’Ja Wilson
Heart hurts like crazy over this one! 💔 such a fighter and a warrior with the sweetest gentle soul! Coach McCray you’ve helped me in many many ways and you were a true gift from God! Truly will be missed! No more suffering no more pain! God got a good one 🤍 #oranges pic.twitter.com/zRCu4zXXdv
— A’ja Wilson (@_ajawilson22) July 7, 2023
CBS Evening News
Tributes are pouring in for women’s basketball trailblazer Nikki McCray-Penson. She was a star player at the University of Tennessee and went on to play in the WNBA. She won Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2000. Nikki Mccray-Penson was 51. pic.twitter.com/kGxKChAHRc
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) July 7, 2023
Rest in Peace, Nikki McCray-Penson.
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