nikki mccray-penson

Nikki McCray-Penson inherits a roster with three returning starters and six letterwinners.

STARKVILLE

Nikki McCray-Penson checked a lot of boxes and made perfect sense as Mississippi State’s new women’s basketball coach.

McCray-Penson had a highly-successful playing career in both college and professional basketball and spent nearly a decade alongside Dawn Staley turning South Carolina into the juggernaut that it is today. She has a reputation as a relentless recruiter and had Old Dominion on an upward trajectory in her first head coaching experience.

Watching McCray-Penson interact during her introductory press conference this past week, it was easy to see why MSU athletic director John Cohen chose her over some other high profile candidates as the person to lead his women’s basketball program.

And although McCray-Penson appears ready to take this next step in her career, she is also stepping into a pressure-filled position due to the success Vic Schaefer had in his eight seasons in Starkville. Schaefer ascended the program to heights it has never seen and captured the adulation of a fan base that really didn’t give two cents about women’s basketball before he showed up.

There’s extremely high expectations that come with this job now, especially with the roster that McCray-Penson is inheriting. The Bulldogs are bringing back three starters – two of which are All-SEC selections Rickea Jackson and Jessika Carter – and six letterwinners from last season. Michigan State transfer Sidney Cooks will also be eligible after sitting out this past season.

However, the roster won’t return entirely intact. Jayla Hemingway announced she was transferring to West Virginia prior to McCray-Penson’s hire and fan favorite Chloe Bibby will finish out her career at Maryland.

Four-star signee Deyona Gaston chose to follow Schaefer to Austin and Bulldog fans wait with bated breath to see what McDonald’s All-American Madison Hayes decides to do.

The rest of the roster has voiced support for their new coach and are on board moving forward.

Unlike many first-year coaching situations, State is stacked for success and poised to win right away next season. ESPN already picked the Bulldogs at No. 3 in its “Way-Too-Early” poll a few weeks ago but it’ll be up to McCray-Penson to make sure her team lives up to the hype.

McCray-Penson’s track record for winning speaks for itself. There’s no reason to believe she won’t be able to get the job done at Mississippi State and carry on the success that Schaefer started in recent years.

Logan Lowery (logan.lowery @journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Journal. He blogs daily at DJournal.com

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