UCLA basketball players apologise for shoplifting in China and thank Donald Trump
UCLA basketball players say they are sorry for shoplifting in China and thanked Trump for saving them from lengthy jail terms
Three US college basketball players detained in China for shoplifting publicly apologised Wednesday and thanked President Donald Trump for helping secure their release and repatriation.
Trump had personally asked Chinese leader Xi Jinping to intervene to free UCLA’s LiAngelo Ball – the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie star Lonzo Ball – and teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, who were arrested last Tuesday in Hangzhou.
Trump had earlier asked whether the three UCLA players released from detention in China will thank him.
“I’m sorry for stealing from the stores in China,” said Ball. “I’ve learned my lesson from this big mistake and I’m a hundred per cent sure I’ll never make a mistake like this again. It’s going to make (me) a better person from here on out.”
UCLA coach Steve Alford said the three were suspended but did not specify exactly what that would mean, saying only that the three players would have to earn their way back onto the team.
He said at some point, the trio may be permitted to join team workouts, meetings and practises.
The three returned to Los Angeles on Tuesday and ignored questions from reporters. Trump returned late Tuesday from a trip through Asia and tweeted Wednesday: “Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!”
Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2017
The players were detained in Hangzhou following allegations of shoplifting last week before a game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai.
Basketball league commissioner Larry Scott has thanked Trump, the White House and the State Department for their efforts.
“What they did was unfortunate,” Trump told reporters earlier in Manila. He said the trio, who had been held since last week, could have faced long prison sentences. Trump described Xi’s response as “terrific.”
Trump had raised the issue with Xi at a dinner held during the US leader’s November 8-10 state visit to Beijing. Trump was in the Philippine capital for a summit of Asian leaders.
“The relevant case involving three students has already been resolved according to law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said without elaborating when asked at a regular briefing in Beijing about Trump’s discussion of the issue with Xi.
The three basketball players from the University of California, Los Angeles, were detained by police on November 7. They were not on the team’s return flight to the United States on Saturday.
A senior White House official said the players had been given relatively light treatment due to Trump’s intervention.
“It’s in large part because the president brought it up,” the official told Reuters.
The UCLA team had been in China for a game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai on Saturday, which UCLA won 63-60. The teams had travelled to Hangzhou earlier in the week to visit the headquarters of the game’s sponsor, Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, which publishes the South China Morning Post.
The three students, all freshmen, were taken in for questioning by police about alleged shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store. They were released from police custody early on Wednesday and had been confined to a luxury hotel pending legal proceedings.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, who had not spoken with the three players, said what had occurred was a “very regrettable situation.” Pac-12 is the college athletic conference in which UCLA participates.
“I’m just glad it’s resolved and that they’re on the way home safely,” he said.
Since the matter did not occur on the court, it would be up to UCLA whether the players will be punished, Scott said.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that the university’s Athletics and Office of Student Conduct would review the incident and determine any potential discipline. He said such proceedings would be confidential.
“I want to be clear that we take seriously any violations of the law,” he said.