Copes requests release from Letter of Intent

by Elizabeth Traynor

Men's basketball recruit Erik Copes has asked to be released from his National Letter of Intent to play at GW, and is headed to play ball at District-based competitor George Mason.

The Department of Athletics is processing Copes' paperwork, University spokeswoman Candace Smith said. She was not sure when the 6-foot-8 center asked to be released from his contract with GW, but said she was made aware of the request May 13.

With the release, Copes has the ability to contact and play for other schools without losing a year of NCAA eligibility. Fox Sports reported Sunday evening the center signed on to play for George Mason's new head coach Paul Hewitt.

A factor affecting Copes' decision to ask for a release was associate head coach Roland Houston, a seven-year veteran at the University and Copes' uncle. In Lonergan's initial meetings with the media, he said hiring decisions regarding his staff were pending, calling into question Houston's future with the Colonials. Hewitt also snagged Houston as a new assistant coach last week, Fox News reported.

Smith said she did not return a request for comment Sunday evening, but said Friday she had no information on Houston.

"We wish Erik well and look forward to preparing for next season," Lonergan said in a statement through Smith. Lonergan declined to answer additional questions on the topic.

Copes is widely regarded as the best recruit former head coach Karl Hobbs has ever brought to Foggy Bottom. He averaged 7.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game last season and was rated as the sixth-best center and 49th-best player in his recruiting class in the ESPNU Top 100 rankings.

Copes' intention to attend GW was called into question with the departure of Hobbs in April and the subsequent hire of Mike Lonergan as Hobbs' replacement. Andre Noble, director of athletics and boy's basketball coach at Imhotep Charter High School, told The Hatchet last month that Copes had developed a great deal of respect for Hobbs, saying he was shocked by the coaching change.

Noble did not return repeated requests for comment.

Copes' attraction to GW and the D.C. area was previously identified as a strong factor in his ultimate decision. Noble said the center felt at home in the city and on campus and "really, genuinely liked GW."

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