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Collierville’s McCray: Basketball Hall of Famer passes away at 51

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By Thomas Sellers Jr., W10 News Editor

The basketball world, Mid-South hoop and Collierville High School families were rocked by the passing of Basketball Hall of Famer Nikki McCray.

When Nikki passed Friday, her name was Nikki McCray-Person. According to her cousin, Robert Penson, he confirmed that she died during the night because of secondary complications related to breast cancer. 

McCray-Penson’s death was announced by her last stop on her basketball journey, Rutgers University. She was about to enter her second year as an assistant coach at the school in New Jersey. 

McCray-Person rose to fame after being born December 17, 1971 in Collierville. After leaving her mark on many Lady Dragon basketball records, McCray signed with the historic powerhouse Tennessee Lady Vols. 

At Tennessee, McCray was a two-time All-American and a three-time all-Southeastern Conference player. She helped lead the Lady Vols to three consecutive regular-season conference championships. 

After graduating from Tennessee in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in education and tallying 1,572 points in Knoxville, McCray embarked on her professional and Olympic basketball careers. 

McCray-Penson became part of the U.S. team that would win the gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

She averaged 9.4 points a game in Atlanta and four years later, McCray-Penson helped the U.S. team win gold in Sydney, Australia.

Outside of international basketball, McCray-Penson started her pro career with the Columbus Quest of the short-lived American Basketball League. She averaged 19.9 points a game, led the team to the league championship in 1997 and was named most valuable player.

She left the ABL and made the jump to the WNBA with the Washington Mystics. McCray-Penson had a 10-year career on the court coming to an end in 2006.

Once McCray-Penson’s playing days were done, she moved over to coaching. One of the highlights of her tenure on the sideline was being the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs women’s basketball team from 2020 to 2021. 

She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. McCray-Penson had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. Her battle with the disease continued for 10 years.

McCray-Penson will be forever remembered as an all-American point guard Tennessee, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a three-time All-Star in the WNB., died on Friday. She was 51.

Her survivors include her husband, Thomas Penson, and her son, also named Thomas. Her mother, Sally Coleman, died of breast cancer in 2018.

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