For Andre Cornelius, Christmas is arriving four days early.
The senior guard, who missed the Patriots’ first 10 games while serving a suspension following an arrest for credit card fraud, is eligible to play for the first time during the 2011-12 campaign on Wednesday against Duquesne at the .
“I’ve just been waiting for this process to be over so I can get back out on the court,” said Cornelius, who started all 34 games for Mason last year, finishing third on the team averaging 9.5 points per game. “I’ve been working hard in practice, trying to push the guys and everything. I just can’t wait until Wednesday."
Cornelius was arrested in September and charged with credit card larceny and credit card fraud of less than $200. He pleaded guilty to the fraud charge, which is a misdemeanor, and received a sixth-month suspended jail sentence, while the felony charge was dropped.
“It’s been very difficult, but my coaches and the school have been standing behind me, and my teammates stood behind me during this process and helped me to get through it," he said. "They made it easier for me.”
His suspension came on the heels of Luke Hancock’s transfer to Louisville and the graduation of leading-scorer Cam Long, leaving the Patriots (7-3 overall, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) with a wealth of inexperience in the backcourt.
The tandem of sophomore Bryon Allen and freshman Corey Edwards have played well at times, combining for 10.2 points and 6.1 assists, but they've also committed 43 turnovers and have not been the perimeter scoring threat that Cornelius provides.
Quite simply, Mason has missed the 5-foot-10 sparkplug’s three-point shooting, ability to drive to the basket and the ball pressure he’s able to apply on opponents’ point guards on the defensive end.
A career 39 percent three-point shooter who hit 61 treys a year ago – including a career-high seven against UNC-Wilmington – Cornelius’ return will give the Patriots another dimension to help open up the floor for primary scorers Ryan Pearson (18.1 points/game), Sherrod Wright (11.1) and Vertrail Vaughns (11.1).
“One of the things I’ve been saying the past couple of weeks is that I think we’re playing well defensively and I think we’re doing good things offensively, but we need to have a little more scoring punch, and that’s what he [Cornelius] does,” said Paul Hewitt, first-year Patriots coach. “Not only can he score on the offensive end to create points, but with his defense and his ability to pressure the ball, I think he’ll be able to generate some offense out of his defense as well.”
Senior forward Mike Morrison, who has started alongside Cornelius since the beginning of their sophomore seasons, agrees with the coach. “He brings a lot of leadership, a lot of energy and with the skill set that he has, I don’t think people know how good he really is,” Morrison said. “We’ve really missed him out there."
Cornelius, for his part, hasn’t sat around idly watching his teammates work. He's put in extra time to make sure he has his basketball legs and an understanding of Hewitt’s offense. He has been permitted to practice with the team, travel to away games when his class schedule allows, and has put in extra time after practice to learn the team’s sets on offense.
Hewitt doesn’t envision the senior jumping right back into the starting lineup, but rather feeling his way back into the rotation over the Patriots’ next three games, non-conference slates at home against Duquesne and Manhattan and a road game at the College of Charleston. The hope is he will re-established his role by the time the CAA schedule heats up the first week in January.
“It’ll be tough because he can’t just jump back in and start bossing people around,” Hewitt said. “But as he plays and is productive, I think these guys will start listening to him."
"No one is proud, especially him, of the suspension and why he has been suspended," said Hewitt. "So, I think he’s got a little bit of proving to do of his own.”
“It’s good that I have my first two games back at home," said Cornelius. "That will make it easier on me.”
“I’m going to have a lot of emotions, but I’m not going to show my emotions out there," he said. "I’m going to play my game that I always play.”