UCLA basketball trio arrives home from China; Trump calls their actions ‘unfortunate’
“Did LaVar pay for your bail? … Do you have a message for Trump? … Why would you take that stuff?”
LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill said nothing upon their return from China on Tuesday evening. The 111/2-hour Delta flight carrying the trio of freshmen had just arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Shanghai, ending a nearly weeklong ordeal in which they had been questioned over the alleged shoplifting of designer sunglasses.
The players do not face any charges in China, according to a person close to the situation not authorized to comment publicly because of the sensitivity of the situation, but any punishment levied by UCLA has not been determined.
It was not clear whether the resolution of the case in China came as a result of insufficient evidence or a negotiated deal involving President Trump, who intervened on the players’ behalf last week with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Trump, speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday, implied that there had been some type of misconduct involving the players.
“What they did was unfortunate,” Trump said. “You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. … They do not play games” in China.
Trump credited Xi with assisting in the matter, saying the Chinese leader “has been terrific on that subject. But that was not a good subject. That was not something that should have happened.”
UCLA prevailed in the Pac-12 China Game without the three freshmen, beating Georgia Tech 63-60 in a somewhat disjointed performance during both teams’ season opener. The Bruins used only eight players while struggling to put away an opponent who was also shorthanded because of its own disciplinary concerns involving two suspended players who received improper benefits.
Ball, Riley and Hill were all expected to be an important part of UCLA’s improved depth this season. Ball and Riley came off the bench during the exhibition victory over Cal State Los Angeles on Nov. 1 and Hill did not play because of knee soreness.
The No. 21 Bruins will play their home opener Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion against Central Arkansas. Ball, Riley and Hill are scheduled to deliver statements to the media several hours before the game on campus without taking questions. UCLA coach Steve Alford and athletic director Dan Guerrero are also expected to speak with reporters.
Although they escaped punishment in China, the players could be disciplined by their school. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block released a statement expressing relief over the players’ return but acknowledging that the school was assessing the matter to determine any punishment.
“I want to be clear that we take seriously any violations of the law,” Block said in his statement to the UCLA community. “We remain one of the world’s top academic institutions in large part because of our values and standards, which we work hard to infuse throughout our campus community.