Nikki McCray-Penson, a WNBA star and college basketball coach, has died at age 51, Rutgers confirmed on Friday.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, McCray-Penson played for the Washington Mystics and was an All-Star three times before retiring in 2006.
For 16 years, she worked as a women’s basketball coach at several colleges, including Western Kentucky, Mississippi State and, most recently, Rutgers. An official cause of death was not released.
In 2013, McCray-Penson was diagnosed with breast cancer and stepped down from her role at MSU in 2021 for health reasons before returning to coaching this past season.
“Every teammate, every coach, every player who spent time with her knew first she cared about them as a person, and everything else came from that place,” Dawn Staley, a former teammate and colleague, wrote on Twitter.
“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.”
Rutgers called McCray-Penson a “trailblazer” and “full of life, energy.”