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Where Are They Now? Nikki McCray Edition

The itch to coach started during Nikki McCray's second and final season with the Indiana Fever. It grew as she encountered young talent such as Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree during seasons with the Phoenix Mercury and the Chicago Sky. Slowly, as her WNBA playing career wound down, McCray began to realize coaching could feed her passion for basketball as the three-time WNBA all-star moved into the next phase of her life.

She used those last few seasons as a player to learn as much as she could about leadership and communication with other players. Taking on the role of veteran leader on her teams, she worked closely with the younger players on a variety of topics from on-court strategy to off-season workout plans.

"Working with those players gave me a sense of coaching leadership," McCray said Friday by phone.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and former Mystic moved into the official coaching ranks in 2006 when she took an assistant coaching job at Western Kentucky University.

"I got a really great start [in coaching] at Western Kentucky," McCray said of her first coaching job. "It's a program that does things the right way and I learned so much from my experiences there."

McCray's coaching career accelerated this week as the newly-hired South Carolina basketball coach, Dawn Staley, hired McCray (along with Lisa Boyer and Carla McGhee) to fill out her new coaching staff.

McCray said she is excited to work with Staley, her Olympic teammate, and build the South Carolina team into a championship squad.

"We've battled against each other and we've battled with each other," McCray said of her new boss. "Anything less than a national championship would be a disappointment."

The move to South Carolina puts McCray back in the Southeastern Conference, where she played in college, and has her coaching against her college coach, Tennessee's Pat Summitt.

"Anytime you think of coaching you immediately think of Pat Summitt," McCray said. "It'll be weird and different [coaching against Summitt]. But I get to be back in the SEC. I'm very familiar with the conference, I played [in it] and I know what it takes to win."

As she continues her upward climb towards becoming a head coach, McCray doesn't rule out coaching in the pros - or a return to Washington.

"D.C. will always be my home away from home," she said. "Who knows? I might end up back on the staff there, coaching the Mystics."

By Melissa Rosenberg  |  May 23, 2008; 6:32 PM ET
 
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