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3 UCLA basketball players arrested in China speak for 1st time

LOS ANGELES — Three UCLA basketball players accused of shoplifting in China spoke Tuesday for the first time since returning home, apologizing for their behavior overseas and thanking the government of China and President Donald Trump for releasing them.

Ealier Tuesday, Trump tweeted:

“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!” Trump said on Twitter.

LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were allowed to leave China after the situation was “resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities,” said Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pacific-12 athletic conference, of which UCLA is a member.

Ball — a brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball — Riley and Hill are scheduled to speak to reporters at UCLA on Wednesday morning, along with UCLA head coach Steve Alford and athletic director Dan Guerrero, the school said.

The three were arrested last week while their team was in the city of Hangzhou ahead of the squad’s season opener in Shanghai. They were questioned on suspicion of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store near their hotel.

The trio had stayed at the hotel, reportedly awaiting next steps in their case, while their teammates went to Shanghai, where UCLA defeated Georgia Tech 63-60 on Saturday. They stayed in China as their team returned to the United States over the weekend.

Scott did not say how the case was resolved. A conviction of grand larceny in China could result in years of prison. But Trump said Tuesday that he had asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help.

UCLA’s trip coincided with Trump’s two-day state visit to the Chinese capital, Beijing, as part of his 13-day trip to Asia. Trump told reporters that Xi had been helpful in working to resolve the case.

Scott acknowledged Trump, among others, in his statement.

“We are grateful for the role that our Chinese hosts played, and for the courtesy and professionalism of the local authorities,” Scott said. “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 US State Department for their efforts towards resolution.”

Trump’s request was first reported by the Washington Post.

The Bruins, ranked 23rd nationally, will play a home game Wednesday night against Central Arkansas.

Days before the game in Shanghai, the Bruins were in Hangzhou to visit the headquarters of Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that sponsored Saturday’s contest.

The game was the culmination of a weeklong cultural and sports exchange involving the student athletes.

Before the players’ release, LiAngelo Ball’s father, LaVar, had said in a statement on social media that the Chinese judicial process could take months.

LaVar Ball and his youngest son, LaMelo, were in Hong Kong on Tuesday evening to promote a pop-up shop for the family’s athletic apparel line, Big Baller Brand.

LaVar, LaMelo and Tina Ball — the family’s matriarch — all went to China to watch LiAngelo play his first game as a Bruin and promote the opening of a Big Baller Brand pop-up shop in Shanghai.