Nikki McCray-Penson, a former NCAA and WNBA star and head coach of the Mississippi State women’s basketball team, has died. She was 51.

While the cause of death was not immediately known, McCray-Penson had been open about her battle with breast cancer after she was diagnosed with the illness in 2013.

McCray-Penson was a two-time SEC Player of the Year and All-American as a point guard at Tennessee from 1991-95. She went on to play two years in the American Basketball League (ABL), where she was named MVP for the 1996-97 season, and nine years in the WNBA. Splitting time between the Washington Mystics, Indiana Fever, Phoenix Mercury, San Antonio Stars and Chicago Sky, McCray-Penson was a three-time WNBA All-Star and surpassed 2,550 points for her career.

The Tennessee native spent 16 years coaching after her playing career, most recently as an assistant coach for the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Her most notable coaching stints came as an assistant on Dawn Staley’s South Carolina staff from 2008-17 and as a head coach at Old Dominion (2017-20) and Mississippi State (2020-21).

“Thank you my little sister, my friend, my foxhole partner, my teammate, my fast food snacker, my basketball junkie, my fellow Olympian, my gold medalist and now my angel,” Staley wrote on Twitter along with a statement. “Suffer no more Nik Nik.”

McCray-Penson resigned from her post at Mississippi State in October 2021 due to health concerns.

“Over the past several weeks, I have been faced again with health concerns I had hoped were behind me,” she said in a statement at the time. “In light of these developments, I have decided to step away from coaching in order to devote my full time and energy to addressing those issues.”

Two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, who played under McCray-Penson at South Carolina, expressed her condolences on Twitter on Friday. The two won a NCAA championship together with the Gamecocks in 2017.

McCray-Penson also won two gold medals as a member of Team USA’s 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

She is survived by her husband, Thomas Penson, and their son.

If you didn’t pick Mississippi State on your NCAA Tournament bracket, watch out. Bulldogs coach Sam Purcell may put you on his list.

The SEC program bested Big Ten opponent Illinois, 70-56, in its First Four game Wednesday. With the win, Mississippi State claimed the No. 11 seed in No. 1 South Carolina’s region, setting the Bulldogs up for a first-round matchup against No. 6 seed Creighton at 6 p.m. ET Friday on ESPNews.

After the victory, though, Purcell came with receipts of several big-name women’s college basketball fans who did not pick Mississippi State to advance in their brackets.

“We’ve got some new people that are not believing in the Bulldogs,” he said. “We’ve got Candace Parker, who did not put us in the bracket. We’ve got President Biden, who did not put us in, A’ja Wilson and Barack Obama.”

Wilson picked Illinois to win the First Four game and then upset Creighton before falling to No. 3 seed Notre Dame.

The Las Vegas Aces star won the NCAA title in 2017 with South Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed and Mississippi State’s SEC rival. She matched Purcell’s joking call-out with her own jibe at the Bulldogs’ expense, saying she would “never root for that maroon and white team.”

Like Wilson, former president Barack Obama picked Illinois to beat Mississippi State and Creighton to advance to the Round of 32. He picked South Carolina as his national champion.

President Joe Biden picked Creighton to beat the winner of the First Four game between Mississippi State and Illinois in the first round in his bracket. Biden picked No. 4 seed Villanova to win the national title game over the Gamecocks; his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, received a master’s degree from the university.

Mississippi State transfer Rickea Jackson is headed to Tennessee to join the Lady Vols.

The 6-foot-2 forward, who was the leading scorer in the SEC when she entered the transfer portal in January, made the announcement Thursday on her Twitter account.

A 2019 McDonald’s All-American, Jackson led the Bulldogs in scoring as a freshman (16.5 points per game) and a sophomore (14.9 ppg). This season, she averaged 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks through 15 games before making the decision to transfer.

“She just wants out for mental health reasons,” her mother Caryn Jackson said in a text message to the Clarion Ledger at the time.

Jackson played her first three collegiate seasons at Mississippi State under three different head coaches.

Vic Shaefer left for Texas after Jackson’s freshman season. Then his replacement Nikki McCray-Penson for her sophomore season stepped down last October due to health concerns. The Bulldogs were led by interim coach Doug Novak this season and earlier this month hired Louisville assistant Sam Purcell as the new head coach.

In the last month, Jackson visited Texas and LSU in addition to Tennessee, but the Volunteers won her over. Her announcement comes as the Lady Vols prepare for their first Sweet 16 since 2016; No. 4 seed Tennessee will face No. 1 Louisville at 4 p.m. ET Saturday.

Mississippi State has hired longtime Louisville assistant Sam Purcell as its next women’s basketball head coach.

Purcell will continue to coach at Louisville through their NCAA tournament run after the team went 25-4 in the regular season. The Cardinals were named a No. 1 seed in the Wichita region and will face off against No. 16-seed Albany in the first round.

Starting out as a student coach at Auburn in 2000, Purcell also coached at Tulsa and Georgia Tech before joining Louisville in 2013. In 2018, he was a part of the Cardinals’ Final Four run.

“During our search, Sam Purcell routinely emerged as one of the nation’s elite recruiters and more importantly, a terrific fit to lead our program,” Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen said in a statement. “Sam has been an integral part of some of the most successful teams in women’s basketball. He is creative, meticulous, and has shown a proven ability to recruit the nation’s top talent and develop student-athletes.”

Nikki McCray-Penson stepped down from the position in October, citing health concerns. She replaced Vic Schaefer, who took over in 2012 and led the Bulldogs to the 2017 and 2018 national championship games, but left for Texas in 2020. Doug Novak has filled in in the interim, helping the Bulldogs to a 15-14 finish (6-10 SEC).

“I could not ask for a better situation for us,” Purcell said in a press conference. “This is a special place. I had no idea I was going to leave but when a great opportunity comes, you have to take it.”