UCLA Players Thank President Trump During Apologies

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Three freshmen UCLA basketball players somberly apologized for shoplifting in China while on a team trip and thanked President Donald Trump for his efforts to help them get home.

Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, and LiAngelo Ball all read statements at UCLA Wednesday that expressed remorse for what turned into an international incident and thanks to the Chinese government and the president, who was on a tour of Asia at the time of their arrest and detainment.

“To President Trump, and the United States government, thank you for taking the time to intervene on our behalf. We really appreciate you helping us out,” Riley, who spoke first, said.

LiAngelo Ball, whose older brother is Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, said he was thankful to the UCLA community for their efforts in bringing them back to the U.S.

“I would also like to thank President Trump and the United States government for the help they provided as well,” Ball said.

In his short message, after thanking the UCLA community and the Pac -12 for their help, Jalen Hill expressed thanks to “the United States government and President Trump for their efforts to bring us home.”

The president had questioned in a tweet before the news conference whether the three players should thank him for his efforts to bring them back home after their arrest.

Ball, Hill and Riley were greeted at Los Angeles International Airport Tuesday night 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.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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