New Mexico reinstates transfer after guilty plea

Updated: November 25, 2005, 7:20 PM ET
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- New Mexico forward Aaron Johnson, suspended since September for hitting police officers after a bar fight, rejoined the team Friday with coach Ritchie McKay satisfied he won't cause any more trouble.

"Thank goodness for second chances. My Christmas came early," Johnson said.

Johnson pleaded guilty Wednesday to misdemeanor resisting and assaulting police. He was sentenced to 364 days of unsupervised probation and a judge ordered him to stay away from bars and alcohol for one year.

The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Johnson wasn't eligible to play this season after transferring from Penn State, where he led the Big 10 last season with a 9.9 rebounding average. He can play for the Lobos as a senior in 2006-07.

"As part of the agreement that allowed him to return, he will not be on scholarship next year," McKay said. "That told me he really wanted to be with us."

Johnson will keep his scholarship during the current season.

New Mexico also has Kansas transfer J.R. Giddens sitting out this season. He pleaded no contest Oct. 31 to a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from a Kansas bar fight in May, which put Giddens in a hospital with a slashed leg artery.

Johnson initially faced four felony counts of battery on a police officer in the Sept. 24 fight, which Johnson said began when he defended a woman who was being yelled at by a man. In court this week, Johnson said the man assaulted him.

Johnson's lawyer said the player left the bar but couldn't see because of pepper spray used by bar security staff to break up the fight. When police tugged on him outside the bar, Johnson said he believed the fight had resumed.

"I defended myself," Johnson said. "I had no idea who it was."

McKay dismissed Johnson after his arrest but later indicated Johnson's role would be re-evaluated after his plea. Johnson was suspended while felony charges were pending but McKay let him film practices.

The coach explained that he initially believed the accusation warranted a harsh penalty.

"I wouldn't have a convicted felon on our team," McKay said. "That's part of it. Another part of it is his attitude. He displayed a good attitude, a repentant attitude. It's my belief that at some point this will turn out to be a success story."

McKay initially encouraged Johnson to transfer to another school but reconsidered. He praised Johnson's efforts in the classroom and said he was impressed that Johnson did whatever was asked -- even videotaping practices -- to win reinstatement.

"He admirably served us and was humbled," McKay said.

McKay said Johnson's ability as a player was "a secondary issue." But he agreed that Johnson can contribute in practice by pushing starter David Chiotti. McKay also said Johnson can improve his play, too.

"He had some great stats from Penn State," McKay said. "He was the leading rebounder in the Big 10. Obviously, he's a powerful force inside."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press