"It's awfully disappointing," said head coach Dennis Felton, who begins his fifth season with the first practice of the year this afternoon. "Whenever you have guys have any shortcomings in terms of doing what they're supposed to do and keeping up with their responsibilities, you are disappointed because you have a tough time understanding why they would put themselves in that position and maybe a tougher time understanding why they would do things that would impact other folks around them."
Mercer and Brown were Georgia's leading scorers last year and combined to average 27.8 points and 10 rebounds last year. All three players will be allowed to practice with the team during their suspension. Mercer missed the last 10 games last year due to a knee injury but is expected to be physically ready to compete this week.
"The suspensions are very significant and then you are talking about adjusting to something new and different right in the heart of the season when they do return so it's impactful," Felton said.
All three players are expected to release statements regarding their suspension, but Felton is more interested in their actions than their words at this point, he said.
"There has been talk of remorse and wanting to do better," he said, "but obviously it didn't quite come to fruition at a level to keep them from being suspended."
The suspensions will get longer if the three players don't change their behavior, Felton said.
"Now might be too early to announce it because we're still a good month away from the season, and there are still opportunities to take care of your business or not take care of your business," Felton said.
Georgia (19-14 overall, 8-8 SEC last season) finished fifth in the SEC Eastern Division last year. The only starter gone from that team is guard Levi Stukes, who averaged 12.5 points per game. Also gone is forward Steve Newman, who added 5.5 points per game.
Until Thursday, there was optimism surrounding the program and its chances of earning the first trip to the NCAA Tournament since the Jim Harrick era. That optimism remains for Felton, he said.
"This is a step back from standpoint of people being responsible and accountable and doing the right things as students," he said. "It never makes it easier when you are missing players, but I remain really, really, really excited about this year's team."
The Bulldogs will add a five-man recruiting class that Felton calls the best of his Georgia tenure. It is highlighted by 6-foot-8 center Jeremy Price, who was rated the 20th-best center in the country by Scout.com.
"There's no doubt that (the suspensions) will create a situation where more will be asked of those freshmen than maybe under normal conditions," Felton said.
The suspensions will start with Georgia's exhibition game against Clayton State on Nov. 2. The regular season begins Nov. 9 against Jacksonville State.
Barring any additional penalties, Brown and Jackson will be able to return in time for the start of the SEC season. The earliest possible return for Mercer is a Jan. 26 game against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.
"We are putting together terrific pieces in terms of talent," Felton said, "but we're still working on getting to the point where we have that championship caliber discipline."
Felton is proud, he said, of the school's strict academic policy. Missed classes "were running rampant" before the policy was instituted, he said.
"As a university, we are just intent on doing far, far better when it comes to seeing our student athletes achieve in the classroom and earn degrees," Felton said.
UGAA Attendance Policy
Class attendance policy:
1st absence = reported to head coach.
2nd absence = reported to head coach and chief administrator for that sport.
3rd absence = suspension for 10% of competition dates and meet with AD. each subsequent absence = suspension from an additional 10% of comp. dates.
Missed appointments policy:
1st miss = reported to head coach
2nd miss = fined $10 and reported to coach and chief administrator for that sport
3rd miss = additional $10 fine and reported to head coach and AD
4th miss = addnl. $10 fine, and parent notified
5th miss = addnl. $10 and suspension from 10% of competition dates