With all five starters and 11 of 12 players returning, University of Maine men’s basketball head coach Ted Woodward was excited about the 2009-2010 season.
That excitement has to be tempered with Tuesday’s announcement by three-year starter and 1,000-point scorer Mark Socoby of Houlton that he will transfer to another school.
Socoby, who led the Black Bears with 12.3 points and 1.5 steals per game this past season, told Woodward of his decision Sunday.
“It’s not something I was thinking about during the year, but at this point, after a lot of thought and talking to my family and close friends, I feel this is the best decision for me and them, too,” Socoby said. “I’ve thought a lot and prayed about it. I just felt like I wanted to explore different things and see where they lead.”
“I think in any situation or job, you want to be the best you can be,” the 6-foot-5, 208-pound junior guard added. “For any competitor, that’s the main goal.
“I want to be as good as I can be, but at the same time, I know I have the potential to be good here and do a lot of good things, but at the same time, I just feel like going somewhere else and expanding a little bit and checking out different options is something I should do now.”
Socoby, who was an America East all-conference third team selection last year, said his decision has nothing to do with him having a personally disappointing junior season.
“As far as me, this year was a struggle at times, you know, up and down. That was my fault and of course it could have been a better year, but that has nothing to do with me leaving now,” said Socoby, who averaged 4.0 reboundsa and 2.6 assists per game last season. “I think my sophomore year I wasn’t that really well known and I kind of jumped on the scene. This year people knew me, definitely.”
As a sophomore, Socoby led Maine with 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. He also averaged 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals.
“There are a lot of good athletes and good defenders at this level and in this league, and if you’re not at the top of your game all the time, they’re going to get you and it’s something I had to learn, and something I struggled with this year,” Socoby said.
Socoby says he doesn’t have any specific school or even schools in mind to transfer to. He says he’s not even sure if he’ll remain at the NCAA Division I level.
“This isn’t a decision I haven’t thought a lot about. You don’t want to burn any bridges, but at the same time, I know it’s the right decision for me. I’d like to stay at this level, but at this point, there’s no promises or guarantees,” he said. “At this point, I’m still going through the process of filling out the paperwork and once that’s done, I’ll have a chance to talk to a lot of other teams.”
If he remains at the Division I level, Socoby would have to sit out one year and then have one year of playing eligibility. If he transfers to a Division II or III school, he could play right away. He would not be able to transfer to another AE school because of an AE rule requiring players to sit out two years if they want to transfer from one AE program to another.
“I’d be very open with what Mark wanted to do within the framework of America East transfer rules in terms of where he’d like to go,” said UMaine athletic director Blake James. “Outside of America East, I would be open to anywhere.
“We’ve asked Mark to get a list of schools that he would like to consider and we’ll contact those institutions and let them know we have released him from his obligation to us regarding transfer opportunities at their institutions.”
Socoby said Woodward was disappointed by his decision, but that he thinks Woodward understands it and wants what’s best for the former Bangor High and Houlton High School star.
“I was somewhat surprised, but I granted the release request and we wish him the best of luck,” Woodward said.
The two-time BDN All-Maine team first-team honoree said his decision also has nothing to do with the coaching staff.
“I have all the respect in the world for coach Woodward and the staff and the things they’ve done for me,” he said. “They’ve taught me a lot and brought my game up to levels I probably wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise.”
Socoby said it didn’t hinge on academic or campus life either.
“I’ve had a lot of good classes here and experiences within the classrooms, and I’ve had a lot of good professors and teachers,” he said. “The faculty here, as far as academic support, is probably as good as it gets. It’s something I’ll miss.”
Finally, Socoby says his move also wasn’t due to dissatisfaction with the direction of Maine’s program after 7-23 and 9-21 seasons the last two years and back-to-back losses in the AE preliminary (play-in) game.
“The last few years, we’ve had some pretty good teams and things didn’t work out the way we wanted them too or hoped they would, but I’ve had a lot of fun and good experiences in those three years,” he said. “I just think as a whole, basketball and as a person and a student, I want to go in a different direction. Exploring other options will hopefully help me reach my potential and help me become a better player and better person.”
Socoby is the ninth player to transfer to another school, or at least be granted his release from the team, in Woodward’s five seasons as head coach.
“In Division I ball, there are always going to be some transfer situations,” Woodward said. “The majority of people who transferred did so in a search for more playing time, and many of them have gone to play at a lower level of NCAA ball.”
Woodward also defended his program’s retention rate.
“Our retention rate and NCAA APR [Academic Progress Rate], is higher than the national average in Division I,” Woodward said. “Ours is .918 and the national average is around .909 for retention. The APR is .959 for us and that’s in the 70th or 80th percentile. The NCAA’s cutoff is around .920, so we’re significantly higher than the national average.”