Howard, Boston lead AP women's basketball All-America team

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Rhyne Howard is rewriting the record books at Kentucky and she is only a junior.

Now the Wildcats star is the first player from the school to be honoured as a preseason All-American by The Associated Press. Howard was a unanimous choice by the 30-member national media panel on the team released Thursday.

She was joined on the five-player team by sophomore Aliyah Boston of South Carolina, who was also a unanimous pick. Seniors Dana Evans of Louisville, Aari McDonald of Arizona and Michaela Onyenwere of UCLA round out the squad.

Howard averaged 23.4 points last season and became the first player in school history to score 25 or more points in five straight games .

“Rhyne Howard was one of the best players in the nation last season and after seeing how hard she has worked this off-season and preseason, I have no doubt she’ll be in those same conversations this year," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "What makes Rhyne so special is how she lifts everyone around her up. She is an exceptional person and player and very deserving to be Kentucky’s first AP Preseason All-American. I cannot wait to see what she has in store this season.”

As a freshman, Boston helped the Gamecocks win the SEC and earn their first No. 1 ranking in the final poll of the season. Expectations are high this year as well for South Carolina, which this week earned its first No. 1 preseason ranking in the AP Top 25.

Boston, who averaged 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds last season, spent a lot of her time during the pandemic working on her shot.

“I was skeptical at the beginning, but we got here and she’s been making them ever since,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “Aliyah’s a great player. I can say that I can see it every day. You see great players get better and how they did it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable how much better she’s gotten.”

Like Boston, Evans spent her downtime this off-season working on her shot. She turned down a chance to go pro and enter the WNBA draft to return to Louisville.

“Dana is an extremely talented player, but she put the time in the gym to get to where she is. She really worked to improve her 3-point shot, but most of all she went from being an elite scorer to a true point guard," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said.

Onyenwere is the second player ever from UCLA to be honoured as a preseason All-America, joining Maylana Martin (1999-00). Onyenwere averaged 19.1 points and 8.6 rebounds last season.

“Competitive, consistent, athletic, still growing and totally selfless," UCLA coach Cori Close said of her star. "I believe she is an All-American and an obvious top three draft pick. But even better than that, she couldn’t care less. She just wants to play her butt off and help our team win.”

McDonald is the first preseason All-American for her program, though Arizona coach Adia Barnes did earn honourable mention honours in 1997-98 when she played for the Wildcats. McDonald averaged 20.5 points and 7.8 rebounds last season and has Arizona ranked a program-best seventh in the preseason poll.

“The first time I saw Aari she was in seventh grade and I knew she had the potential to be great, but I wasn’t sure if she understood that. I have watched her improve every year on and off the court and it has been amazing to be a part of her journey," Barnes said. “She has put this program on her back, has started a legacy here, and we would not be where we are without her. Aari is a leader in every sense of the word on and off the court and she has evolved into one of the best players in the country.”

All five players were honoured last spring on the AP All-America teams. Howard was first team while Boston, McDonald and Evans made second team. Onyenwere was on the third team. None was on the preseason All-America team, marking the first time since the 2006-07 season that there were no returning players on the squad.

The AP started choosing a preseason All-America team before the 1994-95 season. For the second consecutive season, the team does not have a player from UConn, Tennessee or Notre Dame. That has only happened once before (2005-06).

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The Associated Press’ 2020-21 preseason All-America women’s basketball team, with school, height, year and votes from a 30-member national media panel (key 2019-20 statistics in parentheses):

Rhyne Howard, Kentucky, 6-2, junior, 30 of 30 votes (23.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 38.2 3-point pct)

Aliyah Boston, South Carolina, 6-5, sophomore, 30 of 30 votes (12.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 60.9 fg pct)

Aari McDonald Arizona, 5-6, senior, 27 of 30 votes (20.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 79.1 ft pct)

Dana Evans, Louisville, 5-6, senior, 23 of 30 votes (18.1 ppg, 4.2 apg, 89.0 ft pct)

Michaela Onyenwere, UCLA, 6-0, senior, 16 of 30 votes (19.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 46.9 fg pct)

Others receiving votes: Elissa Cunane, N.C. State; NaLyssa Smith, Baylor; Ashley Joens, Iowa State; Tiana Mangakahia, Syracuse; Olivia Nelson-Ododa, UConn; Christyn Williams, UConn; Kiana Williams, Stanford.

Doug Feinberg, The Associated Press