The acquittal in a trial preceded the Timberwolves’ drafting of Terrence Shannon Jr.

A constant during Timberwolves president Tim Connelly’s tenure has been his desire to acquire players who have good character and fit well in the locker room and the organization as a whole.

On Wednesday night, Connelly drafted Illinois forward Terrence Shannon Jr., who earlier this month was found not guilty of rape and aggravated sexual assault stemming from an incident at a Kansas bar in September.

After Illinois suspended him following his arrest, Shannon sued and won the right to continue playing while the legal proceedings were underway. He led the Illini in scoring and became a third-team All-America while leading the Illini to the Big Ten tournament title at Target Center in March.

But Connelly had no qualms about choosing Shannon despite her legal battle over the past year. After making her choice, Connelly made a strong statement in support of Shannon’s character.

“It’s a shame that it’s a footnote (in his career),” Connelly said. “It’s a shame to say he was acquitted — if you really dig into it, it’s really unfortunate for a kid who, by all accounts, is a great kid.”

“A lot of times, as soon as you’re charged, you’re found guilty. Thankfully, he went through the legal process. He chose to go to trial because he knew he didn’t do anything wrong. I just think it’s unfortunate that he went through that and I think it’s a testament to who he is as a kid and his ability to play through a very difficult distraction.”

Connelly said the team did “an awful lot” of work looking into Shannon’s background and the case, which went like this:

Shannon traveled to Lawrence, Kansas to watch the Illini-Kansas football team play on September 8. He went to a bar. The woman claimed Shannon lured her to him and touched her inappropriately in a private place. Later that month, Illinois said it had learned of an investigation into an alleged incident involving Shannon. An arrest warrant for Shannon was not issued until December 27. Throughout the process, Shannon, through his lawyer, denied all accusations and said he would prevail in court.

Illinois suspended Shannon, but he sued and won the right to continue playing. He became one of the best players in the country and led the Illini to a second-place finish in the Big Ten regular season and the Big Ten Tournament title at Target Center.

At his trial earlier this month, Shannon said the woman mistook him for someone else and that he never saw her before court proceedings began. The woman found Shannon on an online crew list and told authorities he was the one who raped her.

Shannon’s DNA was not found on the woman after she was examined that night. Shannon also called character witnesses and barristers’ witnesses on her behalf. The defense team was allowed to submit video evidence to show that another man present at the bar and close to the woman at the time could have been the person who committed the acts.

Once a jury found Shannon not guilty, Illinois officials, including coach Brad Underwood and athletic director Josh Whitman, issued glowing statements about Shannon.

“This has been a very serious and unfortunate situation for all parties involved, and I am happy for Terrence that this has been resolved and his name has been cleared,” Whitman said. “We look forward to cheering him on as he begins his NBA journey.”

At Illinois, Shannon should see his jersey raised to the rafters after this season. Shannon’s third-team All-America status did not meet the requirements for her jersey to be raised, according to program guidelines, but Whitman and the school made an exception, given that her ongoing litigation likely affected his position with voters.

“We all understand that there were now factors beyond his control that prevented those votes from happening where they needed to be for him to meet the criteria,” Whitman told reporters earlier this month. “And we’re happy to make an exception in this case to recognize one of the great players our program has ever seen.”

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