Three UCLA basketball players detained in China on suspicion of shoplifting were headed back to the United States on Tuesday after U.S. President Donald Trump said he had sought the help of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the case.
Staff for Delta Air Lines Inc confirmed that the players had boarded a Delta flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles.
The three freshmen – LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill – were detained by police on November 7 in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou over allegations of shoplifting at a nearby Louis Vuitton location. Surveillance footage is said to have captured the crime.
(From left) UCLA teammates Jalen Hill, Cody Riley, and LiAngelo Ball have been released on bail after being accused of shoplifting in Hanzhou. They are reportedly confined to their hotel
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a ceremony November 9, 2017 in Beijing. The two discussed the three UCLA players who were released from their hotel and allowed to fly back to Los Angeles on Tuesday after being accused of shoplifting
A source familiar with the investigation told ESPN’s Arash Markazi that the three are accused of stealing from three stores at the high-end fashion center, which includes brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Salvatore Ferragamo in addition to Louis Vuitton.
The three freshmen were not on the team’s return flight to the United States on Saturday.
‘What they did was unfortunate,’ Trump told reporters earlier in Manila. He said the trio, who have been held since last week, could have faced long prison sentences, and described Xi’s response as ‘terrific.’
‘They’re working on it right now,’ Trump said.
Trump had raised the issue with Xi during a dinner held during the U.S. leader’s November 8 to 10 state visit to Beijing. Trump was in the Philippines capital for a summit of Asian leaders.
Asked about the trio and Trump’s discussing the issue with Xi, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing: ‘Until now, I have not received any update, so I am unable to provide any further information.’
(From left) UCLA’s LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill and Kris Wilkes pose for a picture before flying to China for Friday’s opener against Georgia Tech in Shanghai. Ball, Riley, and Hill were arrested and accused of shoplifting in Hangzhou, where they will remain indefinitely
US President Donald Trump (2nd R) speaks to China’s President Xi Jinping (L) in front of US First Lady Melania Trump (2nd L) and Xi’s wife Peng Liyuan (R) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. Trump said he spoke to Xi about the three UCLA freshman
The three freshman basketball players are reportedly confined to Hyatt Hotel in Hanzhou
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.
(From right to left) Father LaVar Ball with sons LiAngelo and LaMelo. LaVar played briefly at Washington State whereas LaMelo is one of the top recruits in the country and has verbally committed to UCLA
The three students were taken in for questioning by police about alleged shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store during the Hangzhou visit.
They were released from police custody early on Wednesday and had been confined to a luxury hotel in Hangzhou pending legal proceedings, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The three players are notable both because UCLA is a perennial college basketball power and because Ball is the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.
Considered the lowest-rated recruit of UCLA’s freshman class, LiAngelo was given three out of five stars on ESPN’s college basketball recruiting page, which criticized his lack of lateral quickness and overall defense. The scouting report did credit LiAngelo with being a good shooter with an improving post game.
Younger brother LaMelo may be the biggest prospect of the Ball brothers and was taken out of Chino Hills High School so he can be made into ‘the best basketball player ever,’ according to father LaVar.
Last season, LaMelo drew national attention by scoring 92 points in a game for Chino Hills. He has publicly committed to UCLA as well.
Father LaVar’s Big Baller Brand makes sneakers, ranging in price from $220 to one pair that costs $995.
Lonzo currently has his own signature shoe while LaMelo’s is on its way. The MB1, which costs $395, is available for pre-order and will ship in December.
According to Markazi, the Big Baller Brand had a pop-up shop scheduled for Wednesday in Hong Kong.
LaVar Ball (middle, back), LaMelo Ball (left) and LiAngelo Ball (right) pose for a portrait with Lonzo Ball (seated), who was drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in June