The season has yet to begin, but George Mason has already suspended three of its most important players, including two who will miss Friday's highly anticipated opening game against Virginia.

On Tuesday, the school announced that sophomore center Erik Copes and sophomore guard Vaughn Gray will miss the Patriots' first three games for "student-athlete conduct violations." Coach Paul Hewitt said there are no legal ramifications for the players. Both were at practice on Tuesday.

"They're good kids. They made a bad decision. They violated athletic department rules. Consequences are consequences," Hewitt said. "There's no excuse. They've actually taken it very well. They understand nobody did it to them but themselves."

Up Next
Virginia at George Mason
When » Friday, 7 p.m.
Where » Patriot Center, Fairfax, Va.

Last week, junior guard Sherrod Wright sat out an exhibition victory over Bowie State for an athletic department violation he committed in the summer. Last year, guard Andre Cornelius missed the first 10 games after pleading guilty to credit card fraud.

Hewitt rejected the notion that there is a discipline problem in the program, or that there was one when he took over from Jim Larranaga last year.

"They're college kids. I'm just glad that when I played college basketball between '81 and '85, there wasn't the scrutiny because I probably wouldn't be sitting here with you right now," Hewitt said. "There is no discipline problem. These are really good kids."

The timing is bad for the Patriots, who in a weakened CAA are counting on building a solid resume outside the league. Other games Copes and Gray will miss next week are Tuesday at defending Patriot League champion Bucknell and Friday against defending CIT champion Mercer in the opening round of the Paradise Jam.

Copes, a 6-foot-8 defensive and rebounding force, and Gray, an explosive 6-5 perimeter player, will return for the Patriots' final two games of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

Until then, George Mason will get by with a pared-down rotation which will include newcomers Patrick Holloway, a 6-1 freshman guard from nearby Paul VI, Anali Okoloji, a 6-8 sophomore transfer from Seton Hall, and Marko Gujanicic, a versatile 6-8 freshman with international experience in his native Serbia.

Point guard Bryon Allen, who missed last week's exhibition game with a back injury, will play against Virginia. Juniors Johnny Williams, who redshirted last year after shoulder surgery, and Jonathan Arledge, both 6-8, will step into larger roles in the frontcourt to compensate for the loss of CAA Player of the Year Ryan Pearson.

Pearson will be missed, but the Patriots are excited about their new style.

"We're gonna be an uptempo team, a lot more pressing. A lot more guys are going to be playing with the system Coach Hewitt has," sophomore guard Corey Edwards said.

Even with two major pieces out of the lineup, George Mason could give Virginia trouble, especially considering the Cavaliers woes at point guard. Jontel Evans and Malcolm Brogdon are out with foot injuries, while freshman Teven Jones has been suspended, a prevailing theme for Friday's opener.

"You make a mistake, you can lose it as quick as you gain it," Wright said. "It's a wakeup call for me."