Sophomore guard Justin Edwards, who led the America East in scoring, plans to transfer from the University of Maine.

On his Twitter account, Edwards thanked his teammates, coaching staff, the school and Black Bears fans.

“I simply want to gain exposure playing at a higher level of basketball for my next 2 years,” he tweeted Thursday afternoon, “and look forward to the challenge that lies ahead.”

Edwards averaged 16.7 points per game in America East action to become Maine’s first conference scoring champion since Dean Smith in 1989-90.

A native of Whitby, Ontario, Edwards led Maine to an 11-19 season and fifth seed in the conference tournament, where the Black Bears lost 50-49 in the quarterfinals to No. 4 Albany. The Great Danes overcame an eight-point deficit with eight minutes left and went on to win the title and with it, an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The loss was the eighth straight one-and-done performance in the conference tournament by Maine.

Edwards was ranked in his high school graduating class as the eighth-best basketball player in Canada. Colleges including Fresno State, Missouri and George Washington recruited him.

“Even when he was in high school we talked about different levels of basketball and his dreams,” said Maine Head Coach Ted Woodward. “It’s never been a secret that Justin has been interested in playing at a high level of basketball.”

Woodward said he granted Edwards a release so he could speak with other schools. Edwards plans to finish the semester in Orono and enroll somewhere else in the fall.

According to NCAA transfer rules, Edwards must sit out next winter’s basketball season but would have two years of eligibility remaining.

“He’s a wonderful young man and we appreciate everything he’s done here,” Woodward said. “We wish him good luck in whatever he decides to do.”

Spring workouts have already begun, and Woodward continues to recruit incoming freshmen. The loss of his leading scorer – named to all-conference second team – is a substantial blow to a program still looking for its first NCAA tournament berth.

“Obviously, Justin’s an outstanding player and any time you have a guy who scores like he does, you don’t want to be in a situation where you lose him,” Woodward said.

The university did not make Edwards available for comment.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH