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Former Mississippi State Women's Basketball Coach Named Assistant at Rutgers

Nikki McCray-Penson will begin coaching again, this time as an assistant with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Former Mississippi State women's basketball coach Nikki McCray-Penson is returning as a coach after spending one year away from the court.

Rutgers announced that the former SEC coach would be joining their program as an assistant ahead of the 2022-2023 season. The Scarlet Knights struggled to an 11-20 overall record last year and won just three games in the Big Ten Conference. 

McCray-Penson had a storied playing career in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She played collegiate basketball at the University of Tennessee under legendary head coach Pat Summitt. The former guard played for a handful of professional women's basketball teams and was selected to three WNBA All-Star teams. 

After her playing career ended, McCray-Penson began to coach. She was hired as an assistant at Western Kentucky in 2006 before joining former teammate Dawn Staley at South Carolina in 2008. She spent nine seasons with Staley and the Gamecocks before landing her first-ever job as a head coach with Old Dominion. McCray-Penson led the Monarchs to two consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins and was named the Conference-USA Coach of the Year in 2020. 

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McCray-Penson was chosen as the head coach at Mississippi State after the departure of storied head coach Vic Schaefer at the end of the 2019-20 season. This marked her first head coaching job at a Power Five school, but it wasn't an easy road: in 2020-2021, she led MSU to a 10-9 overall record. The team did not make the NCAA Tournament and turned down a WNIT bid to end the year early. 

Although she was originally slated to stay with the team heading into last season, McCray-Penson ultimately stepped down a few weeks before the season due to health concerns. Doug Novak was named the interim head coach of the Bulldogs and helped the program reach unprecedented success. Former Louisville assistant Sam Purcell was hired to be the new leader of the program in March.

McCray-Penson will be working with another former WNBA teammate at Rutgers in Coquese Washington. The two played together for the Indiana Fever and will be aiming to take the Scarlet Knights to new heights.