The defending national champions are down another crucial piece.
South Carolina assistant women’s coach Nikki McCray-Penson was named head coach at Old Dominion on Wednesday, ending a nine-year stay with the Gamecocks. It’s the first head-coaching job for McCray-Penson, who also logged two years as an assistant at Western Kentucky.
ODU athletic director Wood Selig was at Western Kentucky at the same time as McCray-Penson. The Lady Monarchs were looking for a replacement for Karen Barefoot, who took the head job at UNC Wilmington.
A two-time SEC Player of the Year at Tennessee, McCray-Penson played for Pat Summitt and earned All-American honors in 1994 and 1995. A two-time Olympic gold medalist as well, McCray-Penson was an MVP in the American Basketball League and a three-time All-Star in the WNBA.
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She helped guide the Lady Toppers to a WNIT and NCAA tournament berth before joining Dawn Staley at USC. McCray-Penson was a vital recruiter as the Gamecocks rose to respectability, then elite status. She and Staley entered the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame together in 2012.
Staley pointed out during her national championship press conference how much McCray-Penson has meant to the Gamecocks, citing the team’s family atmosphere and how the entire team helped McCray-Penson get through her breast cancer diagnosis. She has been cancer-free since January 2015.
ODU went 17-14 last season and did not make the postseason. The Lady Monarchs have had five straight non-losing seasons but Barefoot topped out with three WNIT berths.
McCray-Penson will be the latest to try and restore the luster to a program that won three national championships between 1979 and 1985 but hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2008.
It’s the second time in three years Staley has to hire an assistant coach. Darius Taylor resigned after the 2014-15 season and was replaced by Fred Chmiel.
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