Potentially facing up to 10 years in a Chinese prison, UCLA basketball players LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill, and Cody Riley have been released on bail in Hangzhou after being arrested for allegedly shoplifting sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton location near the team’s hotel.
For the time being, the accused players are required to remain at that Hyatt in Hanzghou indefinitely, according to ESPN reporter Arash Markazi.
In a video posted to Twitter by Markazi, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo and Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo, was dismissive of the incident.
‘He’ll be fine,’ said the usually outspoken LaVar. ‘Everyone’s making it a big deal. It ain’t that big a deal.’
The Bruins were preparing to open the season against Georgia Tech in Shanghai on Friday when the three players were reportedly interrogated and arrested. All three could face between three and 10 years in prison, Chinese lawyers told Yahoo Sports.
‘I would say they could be in quite a bit of trouble if they have solid proof that they shoplifted,’ William Nee, a Hong Kong-based researcher of the Chinese court system for Amnesty International, told Yahoo Sports. ‘However, part of it will depend on whether their lawyers, the university, or the U.S. consulate can advocate and negotiate on their behalf.’
According to ESPN, around 20 police officers arrived at the Hyatt Hangzhou at around 8 a.m. on Tuesday and spoke with players from both UCLA and Georgia Tech about an incident at a nearby Louis Vuitton store. The players were allegedly kept in a room for hours without being allowed to speak with coaches.
‘They weren’t messing around,’ one source told ESPN. ‘The kids were scared.’
Georgia Tech has since released its own statement: ‘During the questioning, it was determined that Georgia Tech student-athletes were not involved in the activities being investigated. They have resumed their scheduled activities in advance of Saturday’s season opener versus UCLA in Shanghai.’
UCLA coach Steve Alford declined to talk about the incident outside of announcing his intention to sit all three players.
‘The University came out with a statement, so I won’t have any further comment on this other than in answering that question – those individuals won’t play on Saturday,’ Alford told reporters Wednesday in Shanghai.
White House officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Hangzhou-based tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd , which sponsors the annual Pac-12 basketball games in China, declined to comment, as did the Hangzhou police.
A U.S. State Department official said the department was aware of reports of three citizens arrested in China and stood ready to provide assistance but had no further comment due to privacy considerations.
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.
Lonzo’s rookie season has been up and down so far. He’s averaging just 8.8 points a game, although he does rank second among all rookies with 6.9 assists a game.
While Lonzo currently plays for the 5-5 Lakers, younger brother LaMelo was taken out of Chino Hills High School so he can be made into ‘the best basketball player ever,’ according to father LaVar.
LaVar told The Los Angeles Times in early October that LaMelo, a junior, would leave Chino Hills High School so he would have fewer distractions and better focus. LaMelo plays on LaVar’s traveling team, Big Baller Brand, which LaVar also coaches.
Last season, LaMelo drew national attention by scoring 92 points in a game for Chino Hills.
LaVar’s Big Baller Brand also makes shoes, 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 will open two pop-up shops in China: one in Shanghai on Friday and another in Hong Kong on November 14.
There is a concern that LaMelo’s shoe deal could affect his eligibility at UCLA.
NCAA spokeswoman Emily James said in an email to The Associated Press that she could not speak specifically about LaMelo but that his eligibility could be at risk if he directly profits from shoe sales.
‘Generally speaking, a college athlete or prospect paid for use of their athletics reputation or ability risks their future eligibility in that sport,’ NCAA spokeswoman Emily James said to The Associated Press in an email. ‘This includes profiting from the sale of items bearing the young person’s name. NCAA rules, however, do allow prospects to promote commercial products prior to enrollment provided it is not for pay.’
LaVar Ball told ESPN that his son’s amateur status is not a concern.
‘Who cares? If he can’t play, then he can’t play. It doesn’t mean he’ll stop working out and getting better,’ he said. ‘Maybe in two years they’ll change the rule and he’ll be able to the NBA straight out of high school.’
LaVar, who played one season at Washington State, has grabbed attention over the past year with exaggerated claims and headline-grabbing antics.
For instance, LaVar predicted Lonzo would lead the Bruins to a national championship during his freshman year. UCLA ultimately fell to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, which prompted LaVar to blame Lonzo’s white teammates Bryce Alford, T. J. Leaf, and Thomas Welsh.
‘Realistically you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow,’ LaVar told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.