No one ever told BYU men's basketball coach Steve Cleveland it would be easy rebuilding the program.

The latest hit for the second-year coach is the preseason loss of starter Mekeli Wesley, who has been suspended by the university and won't rejoin the Cougar team until winter semester."It's been challenging, but I refuse to let it distract me," said Cleveland, who now has lost three projected starters from his 1998-99 team. "We're going to get it done."

For the first 10 games this season, however, Cleveland will have to do so without Wesley.

The 6-foot-9 forward, who averaged 13.5 points and five rebounds last year as a freshman, is expected to rejoin his teammates Dec. 19 when the Cougars play host to California in the Marriott Center.

"This past year has been difficult and challenging for Mekeli Wesley," said Cleveland in a prepared statement. "His academic progress has been short of expectations, and he has acknowledged an Honor Code infraction."

Wesley, who withdrew from BYU at the beginning of spring semester, has since enrolled at Salt Lake Community College. He was married in April and is an expectant father.

"Mekeli is dealing with his challenges responsibly. He agrees with me and the university that it would be in his best interests to give the highest priority to his academic progress and his family responsibilities during fall semester," Cleveland said. "He is an outstanding young man, and we look forward to his return when he completes the terms of his probation."

Wesley, who was the 1996 Deseret News 4A MVP when he led Provo High to the state championship, appeared in all 30 games for the Cougars (9-21) last season. He was named WAC Player of the Week once, led the conference in free-throw shooting percentage at .906 and was tabbed as the Cougars' offensive MVP.

The suspension is the latest blow to Cleveland's reclamation project at BYU. Scoring leader Ron Selleaze (16.8 ppg) and point guard Mike Garrett were each suspended for one year because of Honor Code violations last spring. Selleaze, a senior, will complete his eligibility at Division II Cal State Bakersfield, while Garrett has returned to Fresno City College and hopes to re-enroll at BYU next fall.