Nikki McCray-Penson steps down as Mississippi State women's basketball coach to focus on health

·3 min read

STARKVILLE — Less than a month before the 2021-22 season is set to begin, Mississippi State women’s basketball finds itself with an interim head coach.

Nikki McCray-Penson stepped down from her position to focus on her health, the program announced Tuesday. Associate head coach Doug Novak, who was hired last month, will serve as the interim head coach while the Bulldogs conduct a national search for McCray-Penson’s replacement.

McCray-Penson, a three-time WNBA All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist in 1996 and 2000, had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

“Over the past several weeks, I have been faced again with health concerns I had hoped were behind me,” McCray-Penson said in a school release. “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. Although I look forward to returning to coaching when I am able, I believe this is the best decision for me and my family at this time. I appreciate the support MSU has shown me, and I will be pulling for the team's success this season.”

Nikki McCray-Penson was hired by Mississippi State to replace coach Vic Schaefer in April 2020.
Nikki McCray-Penson was hired by Mississippi State to replace coach Vic Schaefer in April 2020.

McCray-Penson was hired by Mississippi State to replace coach Vic Schaefer in April 2020. In her lone season, the Bulldogs went 10-9 and missed out on the NCAA Tournament.

“We appreciate the time and effort Coach McCray-Penson invested in our program and respect her decision to focus on her health and family,” athletic director John Cohen said in a statement. “Throughout her time as a player and as a coach, Nikki has shown herself to be a competitor, and we fully support her as she takes some time away from the game to address her health concerns."

There were ample coaching changes this offseason to McCray-Penson’s staff, with associate head coach Keith Freeman shifted into a new role for the Bulldogs. Assistant coach Scepter Brownlee left and recruiting coordinator Brittany Young became the coach at Austin Peay. Later, Tamisha Augustin, who was hired in April as an assistant and recruiting coordinator, departed in September to coach in the NBA G League.

Now, Mississippi State will begin the season with Novak as the interim head coach.

Novak joined the Bulldogs after eight seasons leading the Bethel University's men's team, where he won 65.8% of his games and made the MIAC playoffs seven straight years. Novak led the Royals to their first MIAC regular-season title and second NCAA Tournament appearance during the 2016-17 campaign.

Novak has also served as an assistant coach at Tulane and The Citadel between 2006 and 2013. He previously worked at Roane State Community College, Iowa Western Community College, Francis Marion University and Anderson University.

Novak was a tennis player in college at Tennessee.

“We have a remarkable group of student-athletes on our women's basketball team, and we will devote our full resources to supporting them during this transition and throughout the season,” Cohen said.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Nikki McCray: Mississippi State women's basketball coach steps down