Three UCLA players are finally on their way home after being held in China following allegations of shoplifting, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The report has been confirmed by the Pac-12. The players were seen boarding a flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles late Tuesday.
Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were accused of shoplifting Louis Vuitton sunglasses days before UCLA’s game in China against Georgia Tech on Friday. While the rest of the team flew home after the game, the three freshmen were forced to stay behind as the investigation played out.
Initial reports said the players were likely to stay in China for a week or two and that they were facing up to 10 years in prison.
The players were allowed to fly home hours after President Donald Trump discussed the situation with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Trump was in China for a visit at the same time as UCLA. He talked about the incident on his flight home:
On Air Force One, Pres Trump told the press pool he intervened with Pres Xi about 3 UCLA basketball players being held in China on suspicion of shoplifting. "What they did was unfortunate. You know, you're talking about very long prison sentences. They do not play games."— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) November 14, 2017
"Hopefully everything is going to work out," said Pres Trump of the basketball players held in China. "It's a very rough situation," but he said Pres Xi is helping out "and he's been terrific on that subject." Said he hopes the ballplayers would be coming home soon.— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) November 14, 2017
UCLA beat Georgia Tech, 63-60, without the three freshmen.
The Pac-12 issued the following statement:
The three UCLA men’s basketball student-athletes involved in the incident with authorities in Hangzhou, China are on a flight back home to Los Angeles, and the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities. We are all very pleased that these young men have been allowed to return home to their families and university.
We are grateful for the role that our Chinese hosts played, and for the courtesy and professionalism of the local authorities. We also want to acknowledge UCLA’s significant efforts on behalf of their student-athletes. Finally, we want to thank the President, the White House and the U.S. State Department for their efforts towards resolution.
Despite this unfortunate incident, it is important to underscore that thanks to our hosts and partners – most notably Alibaba and the Federation University Sports China - the student-athletes from UCLA and Georgia Tech had memorable cultural, educational and athletic experiences that will enrich their lives and provide lifetime memories. That is what our Pac-12 China Game and full week is about. We look forward to next year’s game between the University of California, Berkeley and Yale University, and many more rewarding experiences for our student-athletes.
We’ll update this story as it develops.