nikki mccray-penson

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

STARKVILLE Mississippi State has chosen a basketball Hall of Famer to lead its women’s basketball program.

And everything she’s done to this point, Nikki McCray-Penson said, was leading to this moment.

The Bulldogs announced the hiring of McCray-Penson as their eighth head coach on Saturday after a three-year stint at Old Dominion. McCray-Penson replaces Vic Schaefer, who departed last Sunday to take the head coaching vacancy at Texas.

”It’s been a dream of mine to be a head coach in the SEC, and I’m so grateful and blessed for this incredible honor and opportunity to lead Mississippi State women’s basketball,” said McCray-Penson, who was an outstanding player for Pat Summitt’s powerhouse Tennessee program in the 1990s.

”This is a national brand with incredible people, a storied tradition and an outstanding community that is second to none. I am confident that my experiences as a coach and player have prepared me for this, and I will pour everything I have into our student-athletes and program. My family and I are so happy to be a part of the Bulldog Family and we can’t wait to get started.”

McCray-Penson was the 2020 Conference USA Coach of the Year after leading the Monarchs to a 26-7 overall record and a second place finish in the league at 14-4 this past season.

The 48-year old native of Collierville, Tennessee, led Old Dominion to a 55-40 record during her time in Norfolk. She also took the Monarchs to a WNIT appearance in 2018-19, the program’s first postseason bid in three years.

”Nikki brings energy, creativity, and a winning mentality to Mississippi State that will inspire our student-athletes and community,” said MSU athletic director John Cohen. “She has earned a national reputation as an outstanding teacher of the game, dynamic recruiter and a developer of young women on and off the court.

”Nikki has achieved success at every step of her career, both as a coach and player. She is a proven winner who will lead one of the best women’s basketball programs in the nation. We are excited to welcome Nikki and her family to Starkville and are thrilled that she will lead us into the next chapter of Mississippi State women’s basketball.”{

McCray-Penson has plenty of experience in the SEC as both a player and coach. She was a two-time Kodak All-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year at Tennessee in 1994 and 1995 and averaged 12.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and two assists during her four-year career with the Lady Vols.

McCray-Penson also coached under Dawn Staley at South Carolina from 2008-17, where she helped guide the Gamecocks to four SEC regular-season championships, three SEC Tournament titles and a national championship in 2017.

McCray-Penson began her coaching career as an assistant at Western Kentucky in 2006-08. She helped the Hilltoppers reach the WNIT Final Four in 2007 and win the Sun Belt Tournament and appear in the NCAA Tournament the following year.

McCray-Penson won two Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2000 as a player and spent 11 years playing professionally in both the American Basketball League and WNBA. She was a three-time WNBA All-Star and also the 1996-97 ABL Most Valuable Player.

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

logan.lowery@journalinc.com

Twitter: @loganlowery

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