Rhyne Howard is rewriting the record book in Kentucky and she is just a junior.
Now, the Wildcats star is the school’s first player to be honored as a pre-season All-American by The Associated Press. Howard was a unanimous choice by the national media panel of 30 team members released on Thursday.
She was accompanied in the five-player team by sophomore Aliyah Boston, from South Carolina, who was also chosen unanimously. Veterans Dana Evans of Louisville, Aari McDonald of Arizona and Michaela Onyenwere of UCLA complete the cast.
Howard averaged 23.4 points last season and became the first player in the school’s history to score 25 or more points in five consecutive games.
“Rhyne Howard was one of the best players in the country last season and after seeing how hard she worked during this off-season and pre-season period, I have no doubt that she will be in the same conversations this year,” said the Kentucky coach, Matthew Mitchell. “What makes Rhyne so special is how she lifts everyone around her. She is an exceptional person and player and very deserving of being the first All-American of the Kentucky preseason. I can’t wait to see what she has in store this season. ”
As a freshman, Boston helped the Gamecocks to win the SEC and win their first place in the ranking in the final vote of the season. Expectations are high this year also for South Carolina, which this week won its first position in the pre-season ranking in the AP’s Top 25.
Boston, who averaged 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds last season, spent a lot of time during the pandemic working on his shot.
“I was skeptical at first, but we got here and she has been doing it ever since,” said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. I can say that I see this every day. You see great players improve and how they did it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable how she got better. ”
Like Boston, Evans spent his free time this season working on his photo. She declined the chance to professionalize and enter the WNBA draft to return to Louisville.
“Dana is an extremely talented player, but she devoted her time to the gym to get where she is. She really worked to improve her 3-point shot, but most of all she went from being an elite gunner to a true point guard,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz.
Onyenwere is the second UCLA player to be honored as a pre-season All-American, joining Maylana Martin (1999-2000). Onyen averaged 19.1 points and 8.6 rebounds last season.
“Competitive, consistent, athletic, still growing and totally altruistic,” said UCLA coach Cori Close of his star. “I believe she is an All-American and an obvious choice among the top three in the draft. But better than that, she doesn’t give a shit. She just wants to play her ass and help our team win.”
McDonald is the first preseason All-American in his program, although Arizona coach Adia Barnes received an honorable mention in 1997-98 when she played for the Wildcats. McDonald’s averaged 20.5 points and 7.8 rebounds last season and ranked Arizona best seventh in the preseason survey.
“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 she understood that. I watched her improve every year on and off the court and it’s been amazing to be a part of of your journey, “said Barnes. “She put this program on her back, started a legacy here, and we wouldn’t 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 honored last spring on the AP All-America teams. Howard was the first team, while Boston, McDonald and Evans made the second team. Onyenwere was on the third team. None were in the All-America team’s preseason, marking the first time since the 2006-07 season that no player returned to the team.
AP started choosing a pre-season 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. This happened only once before (2005-06).