SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Three UCLA men’s basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting on Tuesday, media said, a day before U.S. President Donald Trump arrived on his first official visit.
The players arrested were freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, according to USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and ESPN, all of which cited unnamed sources familiar with the incident. Ball is the younger brother of National Basketball Association rookie Lonzo Ball of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Reached by telephone at a hotel in the eastern city of Hangzhou on Wednesday, Ball declined to comment. ESPN said the three had been picked up by police at their hotel on Tuesday and released on bail early on Wednesday. They were confined to their hotel pending legal proceedings, it said.
The University of California, Los Angeles, declined to confirm the arrests but said it was “aware of a situation involving UCLA student-athletes in Hangzhou, China”.
“The university is cooperating fully with local authorities on this matter, and we have no further comment at this time,” UCLA Athletics said in a statement provided by spokeswoman Shana Wilson.
The UCLA team had arrived in China on Sunday with plans to play Georgia Tech in both teams’ regular-season opener on Saturday, according to statements from both teams.
It traveled to Hangzhou, about three hours by bus from Shanghai, to visit the campus of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), sponsor of the annual Pac-12 games in China.
The three players were questioned about stealing from a Louis Vuitton store next to the hotel where the team is staying, ESPN said. UCLA representatives, including coach Steve Alford, were at the police station while they were there, it said, citing an unidentified source.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement the conference was “disappointed by any situation that detracts from the positive student-athlete educational and cultural experience that this week is about.”
“Whether in the United States or abroad, we expect our student-athletes to uphold the highest standards. We will continue to closely monitor the situation,” he said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday the Chinese government had reported the case to the U.S. side in accordance with consular agreements.
“China is handling this case in accordance with the law and will guarantee the lawful rights in accordance with the law of those involved in this case,” she said.
In a video posted on Twitter on Wednesday by Arash Markazi, a senior writer at ESPN, LaVar Ball said his son, LiAngelo, would be fine.
“He’ll be fine. Everyone’s making it a big deal. It ain’t that big a deal,” said Ball, the outspoken CEO of athletic apparel maker Big Baller Brand.
Chinese President Xi Jinping led Trump on a private tour of the Forbidden City to kick off his visit on Wednesday.
White House officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Alibaba 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.
Three players from Georgia Tech were questioned by the authorities in China on Tuesday at their hotel in Hangzhou but were later released by police, Georgia Tech athletics spokesman Mike Flynn said in a 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,” Flynn said.
Reporting by John Ruwitch in Shanghai and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago,; Editing by Ben Klayman, Matthew Lewis and Nick Macfie