MANHATTAN — Justin Edwards led the America East Conference in scoring last season while playing at Maine, but when his sophomore year came to an end, he yearned for a new challenge.
The 6-foot-3 Canadian guard wondered if his success could translate to a more prestigious conference, where he would face bigger and better competition.
He is about to find out.
Edwards orally committed to Kansas State while touring campus on Friday and announced the decision Saturday morning. The move comes nearly a month after deciding to transfer from Maine.
He will have to sit out next season, per NCAA transfer rules, but will have two years of eligibility remaining afterward. He should be able to provide the Wildcats with scoring, size and experience on the wing right away during the 2014-15 season. He also hopes to provide leadership to a young roster.
“I’m excited,” Edwards said by phone. “Coach (Bruce) Weber is a good offensive coach, and he is going to help me work on my game a lot and develop my shot. I’m a really good slashing guard. I score most of my points when I am driving and in transition. I think I will work well in his motion offense.”
Edwards was considered one of the top transfers available after averaging 16.7 points and 5.2 rebounds as a sophomore. He also received interest from Iowa State, Creighton, Saint Louis and a few other programs.
The Black Bears won 11 games last season, but Edwards was their top player. He scored 19 points at Florida State and had 27 points and 11 rebounds during a victory over Florida Gulf Coast, which advanced to the Sweet 16.
“I liked playing in the America East, but the competition just wasn’t up to the high-major standard I wanted to play against,” Edwards said. “I did really good when we played against bigger schools, so I knew I could succeed at a high level. I wanted to get a little more exposure and experience playing in a bigger conference, so a transfer seemed like the best thing for me.”
Maine coach Ted Woodward supported his decision.
“Justin is a tremendous young man. We enjoyed having him here,” Woodward told the Bangor Daily News. “He’s indicated he really wants to go to the highest levels of basketball. He’s mentioned the BCS-level schools. It’s never been a secret. It’s something that he’s always discussed, even back during the recruiting process.”
Edwards said he received mostly support during the transfer process, and was pleasantly surprised by the interest he received from well-known coaches.
“I knew I was going to get interest, but I didn’t think I was going to get as much interest as I did,” Edwards said. “But it made me realize I can be good at a higher level.”
Edwards is finishing up the spring semester in Maine. He is scheduled to arrive at K-State this summer, but will also play for Canada’s national university team in China and Russia later this month and in June.
“I’m sad I won’t get to play next season, but I’m going to use that time to get better,” Edwards said. “I definitely want to improve on my shot. I’ve been in the gym a lot working on my shot. I want to improve my defensive intensity and be intense all the time and become a better ballhandler. It will be a huge year for me to improve and get to know the team.”
Lancona picks St. Louis — It wasn’t all positive recruiting news for K-State on Saturday. Tanner Lancona, a 6-9 power forward from California committed to Saint Louis over Colorado State and K-State, his father confirmed via text message. Lancona was schedule to visit K-State this weekend, but cancelled the trip.
The Wildcats have one available scholarship to use for the class of 2013. Guards Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu and Jevon Thomas have already signed. So has forward Neville Fincher. Point guard Nigel Johnson and Edwards have orally committed. Expect Weber to continue searching for a forward to provide inside depth.
Johnson to play in China — Before he begins his sophomore season, D.J. Johnson will play a handful of exhibition games in China with a college all-star team. A K-State spokesman said Johnson will leave for the trip on Saturday. Johnson, a 6-8 forward, averaged 2.3 points and 2.5 rebounds as a freshman.