Mississippi State hires ODU coach Nikki McCray-Penson

Nikki McCray-Penson has been hired to replace Vic Schaefer as women's basketball coach at Mississippi State, the school announced Saturday.

McCray-Penson, 48, spent the past three seasons at Old Dominion, where she was Conference USA coach of the year in 2019-20 after leading the team to a 24-6 record. She's 53-40 overall with ODU since 2017.

"Nikki brings energy, creativity, and a winning mentality to Mississippi State that will inspire our student-athletes and community," athletic director John Cohen said in a statement. "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."

She also has SEC experience, having played at Tennessee and coached at South Carolina as an assistant to Dawn Staley for nine years.

McCray-Penson helped Staley lead South Carolina to its first Women's Final Four in 2015, and to the NCAA title in 2017. The Collierville, Tennessee, native played for Pat Summitt from 1991-95, and will join two other former Lady Vols as a head coach in the SEC. Nikki Fargas is at LSU, and Kellie Harper is at Tennessee.

"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," McCray-Penson said in the statement. "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 also was a 1996 and 2000 Olympic gold medalist and played professionally in the ABL and then the WNBA. She finished her WNBA career in 2006, and entered the coaching ranks as an assistant at Western Kentucky, then joined her former USA Basketball teammate Staley at South Carolina.

Schaefer was announced Sunday as Texas' new coach after spending eight years building the Mississippi State program, which he led to the NCAA final in 2017 and 2018.

The Bulldogs were 27-6 this season and projected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament by ESPN's Charlie Creme. They rank No. 3 in ESPN.com's Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2020-21, and return Rickea Jackson, who was one of the nation's top freshmen.