- Story by SportsTalk Mississippi MSU Beat Reporter Brian Hadad
Mississippi State hires Hall of Fame player and up-and-coming coach
It didn’t take John Cohen long to find a replacement for Vic Schaefer, as the Bulldog athletic director announced on Saturday the hiring of Old Dominion’s Nikki McCray-Penson as the new head coach of the women’s basketball program.
All-American. Olympian. All Star. Hall of Famer.
— Mississippi State WBK (@HailStateWBK) April 11, 2020
McCray-Penson is one of the most decorated figures in women’s basketball history, a national player of the year at Tennessee, a two time Olympic gold medalist, a WNBA All-Star, who then joined the coaching ranks at South Carolina as Dawn Staley’s top assistant at South Carolina. She spent a decade on the bench next to Staley before taking over at Old Dominion, where she turned an 8-23 debut season into a second year with 21 wins. Her Monarch squad was 24-6 and likely headed to the school’s first NCAA appearance since 2008 when the season was canceled due to the coronavirus. Her final record at ODU was 53-40. At South Carolina, McCray-Penson was responsible for recruiting some of the biggest names South Carolina has put forward the past few seasons, including national player of the year A’Ja Wilson.
McCray-Penson will inherit a Mississippi State team that truly stands among the nation’s elite, with a roster that was ranked third nationally in an ESPN.com way too early poll. State will return nearly its entire 2019-2020 team that finished 27-6 and second in the SEC. McCray-Penson has the unenviable task of replacing a legend, as she follows Vic Schaefer, who lifted the Bulldogs from the bottom of the SEC to one of the nation’s top programs, playing for two national titles in the past three seasons.
“Nikki brings energy, creativity, and a winning mentality to Mississippi State that will inspire our student-athletes and community,” Cohen said. “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. We are excited to welcome Nikki and her family to Starkville and are thrilled that she will lead us into the next chapter of Mississippi State women’s basketball.”
“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. “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.”