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 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
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
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