Nikki McCray-Penson, basketball star and Olympic gold medalist, dies at age 51
(CNN) — Nikki McCray-Penson, a former basketball star and two-time Olympic gold medal winner, has died at age 51, according to a Rutgers University spokesperson.
The cause of death was not announced. McCray-Penson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.
“Today is a deeply sad and emotional day for everyone who knew and loved Nikki,” Rutgers head coach Coquese Washington said in a news release. “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.”
McCray-Penson was a standout player at the University of Tennessee under coach Pat Summitt. She won two Olympic gold medals as a member of Team USA in 1996 and 2000.
She played two seasons in the American Basketball League, earning MVP honors and winning the League championship with the Columbus Quest in 1997. She went on to play nine seasons in the WNBA, where she was a three-time All-Star.
McCray-Penson parlayed her success on the court into a 15-year career as a coach. She won a national title in 2017 as an assistant coach under Dawn Staley at the University of South Carolina, the first title for the women’s basketball program. She later served as the head coach at Old Dominion and then Mississippi State University.
In October 2021, McCray-Penson stepped down at Mississippi State after one season because of health concerns. She returned to coaching last season and joined Rutgers, where she was working as an assistant coach before her death.
McCray-Penson was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.
The WNBA expressed its condolences to McCray-Penson’s friends and family on Twitter Friday and remembered her as “a beloved member of our WNBA family.”
“Our hearts are heavy as we learn of the passing of Nikki McCray-Penson,” the league wrote.
The South Carolina Women’s Basketball also remembered McCray-Penson on Twitter as “an amazing woman – mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, coach, mentor.”
“Nikki McCray-Penson was part of our foundation and made us the program we are, one personal relationship at a time,” wrote the team.