STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTOK) The Nikki McCray-Penson era has officially begun at Mississippi State.
The new head coach of the women’s basketball program was formally introduced Tuesday afternoon during a virtual press conference with the media.
“This is an unbelievable, special moment for me and my family," McCray said during the press conference. "I am truly humbled, honored and excited to be named the head women’s basketball coach at Mississippi State.”
McCray spent the past three seasons at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. She was named Conference USA Coach of the Year this past season after leading the Monarchs to a 24-6 record before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus.
Coach McCray talked about how different her new role with Mississippi State will be compared to her previous head coaching job at Old Dominion. She said when she was at ODU, she had to teach kids how to win but at Mississippi State, there is already a tradition of winning that she is eager to carry on.
“This program is one of the best programs in the country. When I pick up the phone and I say I’m the head coach of Mississippi State, they know who we are," McCray said. "Obviously Vic (Schaefer) has done a great job in that. This program has so much tradition and history and I’m just so excited to be part of this brand of basketball.”
Mississippi State players have already shown their support publicly for their new head coach. Rising junior Jessika Carter, who made Second Team All-SEC this past season, tweeted on Sunday, “Just got off the phone with @NikkiMcCray15. It’s going to be a great season."
McCray has been calling her new players since they are unable to meet face-to-face due to the coronavirus.
“The conversations are going really well. They’re really excited. For me, it is really about listening to them right now and just getting a feel for them and letting them get a feel for me," McCray said. "I've just been learning their personalities and asking them what they need.”
McCray is inheriting a program that will only be losing only one starter next season in Jordan Danberry. She said her focus right now with the team is keeping them in shape during the offseason so they will be ready once it is safe to practice all together.
“You know right now I’m just continuing to try to figure out ways to keep them active, keep them working on their craft and just keep that love for the game," McCray said. "They’re excited, most of them want to come back and get in the gym but we can’t do that…but to have the majority of the roster back is exciting."
Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen said the search committee talked to college head coaches, the WNBA and even ESPN when searching for their next head coach. McCray's name came up over and over again.
“When you’re looking around the country and the same folks are saying the same thing about the one candidate, it becomes apparent that she’s special,” Cohen said. "There was incredibly high praise for Nikki's competitiveness, her personality. They talked about her ability to recruit and her attention to detail and her ability to break down the game of basketball."