LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Three UCLA freshmen basketball players arrested in China on suspicion of shoplifting are scheduled Wednesday to make their first public statements since they were taken into custody.
Early Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump – who helped negotiate their release during his trip through Asia – weighed in on the scandal.
“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump?” he asked on Twitter. “They were headed for 10 years in jail!”
A shoplifting sentence in China can carry up to 10 years in prison.
LiAngelo Ball –brother of Los Angeles Lakers star Lonzo Ball — Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, who returned to Los Angeles aboard a Delta Air Lines flight from Shanghai around 5 p.m. Tuesday, are not planning to take any questions at the 11 a.m. news conference at Pauley Pavilion, according to UCLA.
Basketball coach Steve Alford and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero are also expected to make statements and also planning to take no questions, UCLA said.
Ball, Hill and Riley were greeted at Los Angeles International Airport by a throng of media on their return, but they walked out of the airport without comment and got into a waiting van.
The players were detained Nov. 7 on suspicion of shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton next to the team’s hotel in Hangzhou. It had initially be reported that the players were suspected of stealing sunglasses from Louis Vuitton. However, a source told ESPN that there is surveillance video showing them also possibly shoplifting items from two more stores in the same high-end shopping center that houses Louis Vuitton.
The incident began when local police were called to the hotel where both teams were staying and inspected UCLA’s bus as players waited to depart for practice, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Police interviewed players from both teams before clearing three players from Georgia Tech. Ball, Riley and Hill were taken to the police station in Hangzhou, where they were kept for a number of hours before being charged. They were later released on bail.
The players then appeared to receive uncommonly gentle treatment. They were placed under house arrest at the luxury hotel and were not permitted to play in UCLA’s season-opening game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai on Friday.
The players’ release followed President Trump’s intervention. He said on his way to the United States after 12 days in Asia Tuesday that Chinese President Xi Jinping was helping out in the case.
“President Xi has been terrific on that subject,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One, bound for Honolulu. “But that was not a good subject. That was not something that should have happened.”
Trump and Xi met Thursday in Beijing.
“What they did was unfortunate,” Trump said. “You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. They (the Chinese) do not play games.”
According to Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott, “the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities.”
There was no immediate indication on whether the players will face any punishment from the team or the university.
“I want to be clear that we take seriously any violations of the law,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “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.
During Friday’s game, broadcaster and UCLA legend Bill Walton issued a heartfelt apology.
“I am sad, disappointed and embarrassed,” Walton said. “This is a very big deal… members of our family have displayed an appalling lack of honor, lack of respect, lack of decency… And I want to apologize right now on behalf of the human race for this travesty.”
Meanwhile, while his son was under house arrest last week, LaVar Ball hosted a promotional event in Shanghai for his Big Baller Brand. A smiling LaVar and his youngest son LaMelo posed for photos and signed autographs for fans at a BBB pop-up shop. LaVar held another promotional event Tuesday in Hong Kong.
The Ball family is also in the midst of shooting a reality show.
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