Erik Copes first signed to play college basketball at the place (George Washington) where his uncle, Roland Houston, a former star at Martin Luther King High ('78) and Rhode Island, was an assistant.

But now, having been released from that commitment, Copes is bound for the school (George Mason) where that same uncle is now on the staff.

Hmmmm . . .

"I know," Copes said, laughing. "Everybody thinks I'm just following him. This time, he followed me."

The 6-8 Copes, a longtime force at center for Imhotep Charter, the Public League champion for 3 consecutive years, as well as the Class AA state titleist in 2009 and '11, made his switch over the weekend.

"Everything that happened at GW [the firing of coach Karl Hobbs] really hurt me," said Copes, a second-team Daily News All-City honoree, "because I'd been around that program since I was 13 years old. I had my heart set on going there. I did talk to people at GW, even [higher-ups in the administration]. They wanted me to stay.

"But I wanted to check other options. I wasn't sure how this was going to play out. My desire has always been to play college ball under my uncle. If my uncle didn't find a school that was going to make him happy, he was going to get out of coaching and just take a job in an office, or something. But he knew George Mason would be a good situation, and that the new coach [Paul Hewitt, once an assistant at Villanova] has had a lot of success, so things worked out, now he's on the staff and we'll be there together." *