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Idaho Vandals defend Steffan Johnson transfer

MOSCOW, Idaho – Just before the start of his only season with the University of Idaho men’s basketball team, heralded transfer Steffan Johnson was asked about his final days at the University of the Pacific, where he was expelled for an alleged sexual assault incident.

“I’m beyond Pacific,” Johnson told The Spokesman-Review in November 2009. “I had good times when I was there. I learned a lot when I was there. I accomplished a lot while I was there, but it’s time for me to start a new chapter in my book.”

That chapter included a turbulent 2009-2010 season with the Vandals. And now, more than a year since Johnson last played at UI, his acceptance to Idaho – and coach Don Verlin’s decision to sign him – were criticized during a “60 Minutes” report on Sunday.

The CBS news magazine aired a 13-minute segment on the 2008 sexual assault case at Pacific involving former women’s basketball player Beckett Brennan. Johnson was one of three men’s basketball players involved in the case, and he was the only one expelled after a Pacific judicial review board found the players guilty.

Michael Kirby and Michael Nunnally, the other players, were suspended by the Stockton, Calif., school for a semester and year, respectively.

Brennan opted to not pursue criminal charges, while Johnson, according to CBS, claimed he wasn’t at the scene of the incident.

Three months after his dismissal, Johnson had enrolled at Idaho and was part of the Vandal basketball team. He had previously met Verlin through Ron Verlin, Don’s twin brother, who is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Pacific.

Regarding Idaho’s decision to accept Johnson after the incident, Barry Brennan, Beckett’s father, told CBS, “Unbelievable to sit there and say ‘Oh, wow, OK, well, we can use a guy like that.’ ‘Oh, he has a sexual assault and has been found guilty?’ How in the hell do you end up at another university within three months?”

Don Verlin did not return a phone message left for him Tuesday asking for his response. But after Johnson arrived in 2008, he told, “He got himself into a little bit of a bad situation, but I never had a doubt. He’s a terrific kid.”

Following the CBS report, Idaho released a statement that read: “As with any story there are two sides. We can assure we did our due diligence before offering Mr. Johnson a scholarship. The Pacific case did not involve a police investigation and no criminal charges were filed. In his brief time on our campus Mr. Johnson was a model citizen and earned his degree.”

Pacific also provided a lengthy response to the “60 Minutes” piece. It noted that the judicial review board “spent 25 hours hearing witness testimony and deliberating before coming to its conclusion that not all the students should be expelled. The Board considered the specific actions of each male student, and grappled with the fact that there were dramatic differences in what the students did.”

Paired with point guard Mac Hopson for the 2009-10 season, Johnson was expected to help UI compete for a WAC title. But the Vandals finished 15-16 and 6-10 in conference play, good for the seventh seed in the WAC tournament.

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