ORONO, Maine – When Justin Edwards signed a National Letter of Intent to attend the University of Maine in 2011, many basketball fans wondered how the Black Bears were able to acquire the talented Canadian.
UMaine wasn’t able to hold onto the dynamic guard, who on Thursday announced his intention to transfer to another Division I program.
“I simply want to gain exposure playing at a higher level of basketball for my next 2 years, and look forward to the challenge that lies ahead,” Edwards said Thursday afternoon in a series of posts on his Twitter account [@Justedwards14].
Edwards, who was not made available to the media for an interview, will transfer upon completion of the spring semester in May, according to a UMaine athletics press release.
UMaine head coach Ted Woodward had only praiseworthy comments about Edwards.
“Justin’s a tremendous young man. We enjoyed having him here,” said Woodward, who explained Edwards wants to pursue playing basketball at a more high-profile Division I program in a more competitive conference.
“He’s indicated he really wants to go to THE highest levels of basketball,” Woodward said. “He’s mentioned the BCS [Bowl Championship Subdivision]-level schools.
“It’s never been a secret. It’s something that he’s always discussed, even back during the recruiting process,” he added.
In the NCAA’s most recent Rating Percentage Index [RPI] numbers used to rank Division I teams, UMaine was No. 265 among 347 schools. America East was 22nd out of 32 conferences in the RPI.
During Edwards’ time at UMaine, the Black Bears compiled a 23-36 overall record, including a 12-20 league slate. They lost in the America East quarterfinals each of the last two seasons.
Under NCAA transfer rules, Edwards must sit out for a calendar year after enrolling at another university. He thus will not be eligible to compete until the 2014-15 season.
Edwards, a 6-foot-3 guard from Whitby, Ontario, becomes the second player in the past two years to transfer after his sophomore season.
Canadian forward Murphy Burnatowski left UMaine in 2011 — and wound up at Colgate — although at the time there were no words of praise about him from Woodward, as is the case with Edwards.
Woodward said he maintained a good relationship with Edwards.
“I have not had any issues with Justin,” Woodward said. “I’ve enjoyed having him here, enjoyed coaching him, enjoyed working with him every, single day. I think he’s a wonderful young man and we’ve enjoyed having him as part of our program.”
Edwards’ Twitter posts were laden with similarly complimentary comments about UMaine and his coaches and teammates.
“I want to thank everyone at Maine for a great experience during the past 2 years!,” Edwards said.
“Thank you to the Coaching staff. I appreciate all you have done for me, personally and professionally, and the opportunity you offered me!” he added.
Woodward said he does not know which schools Edwards plans to contact as he would have been prohibited from having contact with other coaches until after UMaine granted him a release from his NLI.
Edwards earned All-America East second-team recognition this season after he led the conference in scoring with 16.7 points per game, tying Binghamton’s Jordan Reed for the honor.
In doing so, Edwards became the first Black Bear to lead the league in scoring since Dean Smith of Dover-Foxcroft (19.1 ppg during 1989-90).
Edwards, who excels with his open-court play, also contributed 5.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and a league-best 1.9 steals per game while playing an average of 32.7 minutes.
“I want to thank my teammates, the fans, the school,” Edwards said. “I appreciate everything! You have all been great and will be a terrific team next season.”
He was an all-rookie pick during his freshman season (2011-12), when he posted 13.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals per contest.
When asked whether Edwards has the skills to succeed at the next level, Woodward spoke to his considerable talents but admitted he doesn’t have experience evaluating top-tier players.
“Obviously, Justin has fantastic athleticism. He’s been a highly productive player here over the course of two years,” Woodward said.
“He’s still got youth on his side [he’s 20], so it depends on the different programs and what their needs are,” he said.
One of Edwards’ shortcomings has been his propensity for committing turnovers. He made a league-high 119 in 29 games this season and averaged 3.6 per contest in 58 career games at UMaine.
Edwards, known for his leaping ability and his knack for dunking, also has continued to work on his perimeter shooting. He shot 27 percent (44-for-164) from the 3-point arc for the Bears.