Two-time Olympic champion McCray-Penson dead at 51

Two-time Olympic champion and three-time Women’s NBA All-Star guard Nikki McCray-Penson has died at age 51, Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team announced Friday.

McCray-Penson, who had been serving as an assistant coach at Rutgers, was a member of the 1996 and 2000 US Olympic women’s basketball gold medal teams.

“Today is a deeply sad and emotional day for everyone who knew and loved Nikki,” Rutgers head coach Coquese Washington said. “Nikki had a big smile and an even bigger heart. She was full of life, energy, and was so much fun to be around.

“Nikki touched the lives of many because she made it her mission to uplift others and help them achieve whatever dreams and goals they expressed.

“We will miss her dearly but will keep Nikki’s memory alive in our hearts.”

McCray-Penson had been a head coach at Old Dominion and Mississippi State before joining the Rutgers staff.

Before that she was an assistant at South Carolina under Olympic teammate Dawn Staley, helping the school win the 2017 NCAA national championship.

“Her presence was something you could feel before you saw her because she had such light, such positive energy inside her no matter what was going on,” Staley said in a statement.

“I am heartbroken that cancer has taken that light from us, but I know that she would want us to be the ones to carry it on in her absence.”

“Our programme, our sport and most importantly her family lost an amazing woman – mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, coach, mentor – today,” South Carolina’s women’s team tweeted.

“Nikki McCray-Penson was part of our foundation and made us the program we are, one personal relationship at a time.”

Among those who played on that South Carolina championship squad was A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player for the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces.

“Heart hurts like crazy over this one!” Wilson tweeted. “Such a fighter and a warrior with the sweetest gentle soul! Coach McCray you’ve helped me in many many ways and you were a true gift from God! Truly will be missed! No more suffering no more pain!”

McCray-Penson played in the WNBA from 1998-2006 for Washington, Indiana, Phoenix, San Antonio and Chicago.

“Our hearts are heavy as we learn of the passing of Nikki McCray-Penson,” the WNBA said in a social media statement.

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