Former Lady Vols stars Tasha Butts,  McCray-Penson massage to their fans before death.

Former Lady Vols stars Tasha Butts,  McCray-Penson massage to their fans before death.

In 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2021, McCray-Penson stepped down as head coach at Mississippi State after one season, saying at the time, “I have been faced again with [issues] I had hoped were behind me.” She later told Knox News that her resignation wasn’t related to cancer, but to mental and personal health concerns following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our hearts are broken as we mourn the loss of a beloved Lady Vol,” Tennessee women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper said. “We also offer our love and sincere condolences to her family, friends and colleagues across the country. Nikki had a bright and loving personality and touched the lives of everyone she met. Her kind and genuine spirit will be missed.”

McCray-Penson played under legendary coach Pat Summitt from 1992-95 at Tennessee, twice earning All-America honors while leading the Lady Vols to a 122-11 record and a Final Four appearance in 1995. She was also named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in each of her final two seasons. Last year, McCray-Penson was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

The former Collierville High star had a storied playing and coaching career well beyond college.

McCray-Penson won gold medals with the U.S. women’s basketball team at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. She helped spark the formation of two women’s basketball leagues — the American Basketball League and the Women’s National Basketball Association. McCray-Penson won an ABL title in 1997 and was named the league’s MVP before moving to the WNBA, where she was a three-time all-star for the Washington Mystics.

In 2012, McCray-Penson was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

McCray-Penson began her coaching career as an assistant at Western Kentucky University in 2006, and in 2008 took an assistant job under coach Dawn Staley at South Carolina. She remained there for nearly a decade, helping the Gamecocks win the national championship in 2017.

Staley mourned McCray-Penson’s loss on social media Friday, saying in her tweet that “cancer has taken that light from us.”

“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.”

McCray-Penson served as Old Dominion’s head coach for three seasons, guiding the Monarchs to a 24-6 record in 2019-20. She was 10-9 as head coach at Mississippi State in an abbreviated season before resigning.

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