South Carolina women's basketball assistant coach Nikki McCray has been diagnosed with breast cancer, the school announced Monday.
McCray first was diagnosed in November, but waited until today to make the diagnosis public. The type of cancer McCray has is the most common type and is considered the most treatable. She has already begun treatment and will remain with the team as much as possible throughout her treatment.
Though she only made the diagnosis public on Monday, McCray had notified head coach Dawn Staley and the rest of the team earlier. She told Staley in a phone call.
"I called her, and like most people you're in shock," McCray said. "There's a moment of silence on the phone, and just like Coach Staley, the person she is, she rushed to my side."
McCray has been an assistant on Staley's staff since her first season in 2008. Like Staley, McCray is a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the two were gold medal-winning teammates on the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic basketball teams.
Brest cancer runs in both sides of McCray's family, and she got annual mammograms. However, she was pregnant with her son Thomas last fall when her mammogram was scheduled and did not undergo the test. This past November she felt a lump in her breast and tests revealed that it was cancerous.
"I have great doctors," McCray said. "I'm really looking forward to winning this battle. I'm very, very prepared to win this battle."
McCray continued, explaining why she decided to make an announcement and then discuss her health publicly.
"I want to be able to share my story," she said. "I want to be in a position to educate people, to talk about the early detection, talk about the diet - whatever I need to do to be a voice to make people aware of breast cancer."
In the four hours between the time when McCray's cancer was announced and when she met with media, she had already been flooded with support.
"I've got great support from Gamecock Nation, our staff, our team, our family and friends," she said. "So many people have reached out today; it's been unbelievable to know the love and support that you have."
McCray's cancer could potentially be a distraction for the Gamecocks, who are off to what has been a fantastic start to the season and to conference play. That thought has occurred to McCray, but she vowed to make sure it does not happen.
"This is not about me," McCray said. "Our team is off to a great start. We won a great game the other day at Auburn and I want them to stay focused. We just started school today, so I want them to stay focused on our goals as a team, as a family."
Staley released a statement through the athletics department:
"When Nikki called me with the unexpected news, my immediate reaction was to become the best supporter for her through this process. Family is important to us, and we all have embraced Nikki's diagnosis with that mindset and providing her with all the moral and physical support she needs. Our "Play 4 Kay" game will definitely have an even more personal meaning for us this year.
McCray also released a video message that can be seen on GamecocksOnline.com. McCray and the Gamecocks are currently ranked eighth in the country and are 4-0 in the SEC for the first time in program history. They travel to Texas A&M on Thursday for their next game.