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Nikki McCray-Penson, Olympic gold-medalist and Women's Basketball Hall of Famer, dies at 51

Basketball star Nikki McCray-Penson dies at 51
Basketball star Nikki McCray-Penson dies at 51 00:28

Two-time Olympic gold-medalist and former ABL MVP Nikki McCray-Penson has died. She was 51.

McCray-Penson was an assistant women's basketball coach at Rutgers last season and the school on Friday confirmed her death. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

She joined Dawn Staley as an assistant coach at South Carolina from 2008-17. She was part of the Gamecocks' first national championship in 2017.

Obit Nikki McCray-Person Basketball
South Carolina assistant coach Nikki McCray high-fives South Carolina guard Khadijah Sessions (5) during practice at the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Seattle. Ted S. Warren / AP

McCray-Penson won gold medals with the U.S. women's basketball team at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. The 1996 team sparked the formation of the WNBA and ABL. She played in the ABL and won MVP honors in 1997 before heading over to the WNBA. McCray-Penson was a three-time All-Star in that league while playing for the Washington Mystics.

In a statement, the Mystics said McCray-Penson "exemplified what love of the game and hard work can accomplish."

"She was a fan favorite here in DC and brought joy to those lucky enough to be in her large circle of friends and admirers," former Mystics coach Mike Thibault wrote. "Rest in peace, Nikki."

She played eight seasons in the WNBA before retiring in 2006. She was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky for three seasons.

McCray-Penson then became the head coach at Old Dominion for three seasons, going 24-6 in 2020. She spent one year at Mississippi State before stepping down for health reasons and returned to coaching at Rutgers last season.

McCray-Penson played at Tennessee from 1991-95 under Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt. The guard was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and a two-time Kodak All-America standout during her junior and senior seasons for the Lady Vols.

She was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

Obit McCray-Penson
Nikki McCray models a Women's National Basketball Association jersey with WNBA President Val Ackerman at the league's headquarters in New York Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1997.  RICHARD DREW / AP
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