Nikki McCray-Penson, a two-time Olympic gold winner and former head coach of the women’s basketball team at Old Dominion University, passed away on Thursday. 51 years old.
“It’s difficult to express how heartbreaking the news of Nikki McCray-Penson’s passing is for those of us connected to ODU. As an athlete and coach who achieved the heights of success on the biggest platforms in the world, Nikki left a lasting impression on basketball around the world, according to ODU Director of Athletics Wood Selig. “I knew Nikki would achieve the same success as a coach as she did as an athlete from the moment I first met her.
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 while they were in Norfolk.
Over the course of three seasons, McCray-Penson led the Monarchs to a 53-40 record. Before the COVID-19 epidemic halted the 2019–20 season, McCray-Penson had guided ODU to a 24-6 record and a sure NCAA tournament spot.
Nikki McCray-Penson, a former teammate and friend of mine, passed away, and ODU women’s basketball head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones expressed her sadness. “Nikki bravely fought valiantly for others on the court and off, and her legacy will remain forever. 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 secure a spot to the WNIT after finishing 8-23 in her debut season in 2017–18.
After the 2019–20 campaign, McCray-Penson agreed to become Mississippi State’s head coach. Before resigning due to health concerns, she led the Bulldogs for one season. For the 2022–23 season, she returned to coaching and finished her first campaign at Rutgers as an assistant coach.
In 2013, she received a breast cancer diagnosis. But nine months later, after enduring surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, she was certified cancer-free.