Former WNBA Star, Lady Vols Hooper Nikki McCray-Penson Dead At 51

Entertainment

Entertainment
Nikki McCray-Penson
Former WNBA Star
Dead At 51

7/7/2023 9:59 AM PT

Entertainment Nikki McCray

Former WNBA star and ex-Tennessee Lady Volunteers hooper Nikki McCray-Penson has tragically passed away at 51 years old.

The heartbreaking news was confirmed to The Tennesean on Friday by Rutgers University, where McCray-Penson had been working as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team.

The school did not provide a cause of death … but Univ. of Tenn. reporter Maria Cornelius said McCray-Penson passed away after battling breast cancer for a second time.

Entertainment Nikki McCray

The former guard starred at Tennessee in the 1990s … winning SEC Player of the Year twice (1994, 1995) — as well as earning Kodak All-American honors twice.

Following her stint with the Vols, she went on to become a three-time WNBA All-Star … while playing eight seasons for the Mystics, Fever, Mercury, Silver Stars and Sky.

She also won two gold Olympic medals with Team USA in her career … and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

Entertainment Nikki McCray

Her coaching tenure began in 2006 … when she was hired to be an assistant on Western Kentucky’s staff. She later became a head coach for Old Dominion, where she won C-USA Coach of the Year in 2019-2020. She then had a stint as Mississippi State’s head coach … before she began her career at Rutgers in 2022.

McCray-Penson also had a significant impact off the court … she was selected by Bill Clinton to be a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. She was also picked by the Library of Congress as a speaker for the Women’s History Month Address in 1999.

News of the death has rocked the basketball world … with many stars remembering her fondly after learning of her passing.

Nikki McCray : Sweet person and cold hooper! Rest in Peace pic.twitter.com/JtOBwL2ZLz

— Chris Webber (@realchriswebber) July 7, 2023
@realchriswebber

“Nikki McCray : Sweet person and cold hooper!,” ex-NBA star Chris Webber wrote. “Rest in Peace.”

Added Dick Vitale, “I am so heartbroken hearing this news a few minutes ago about Nikki McCray – Penson . Loved everything about Nikki – she was a Hall of Famer as a player & as a person . May Nikki RIP.”

Lady Vols senior Rickea Jackson, who played under McCray-Penson at Mississippi St., also tweeted her condolences to the McCray-Penson family.

My heart is so heavy💔. One of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever met. The one who genuinely went out their way to understand me when I was so misunderstood. The one who was always there. You fought so long and hard and I am so grateful to have known you. I love you. Rest easy pic.twitter.com/qntsFVUE0M

— RJ👑 (@iamthathooper) July 7, 2023
@iamthathooper

“One of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever met,” Jackson said. “The one who genuinely went out their way to understand me when I was so misunderstood. The one who was always there.”

“You fought so long and hard and I am grateful to have known you. I love you. Rest easy.”

RIP