Three fresh­men are back in U.S.

They are out of China and back in L.A., but they still could face dis­ci­pline from school.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ben Bolch

The UCLA bas­ket­ball play­ers face no charges in China, but they could be pe­nal­ized by the school.

The three UCLA bas­ket­ball play­ers walked slowly through the air­port ter­mi­nal, a bar­rage of cam­era flashes re­flect­ing off their gray jack­ets as ques­tions were shouted at them.

“Did LaVar pay for your bail? … Do you have a mes­sage for Trump? … Why would you take that stuff?”

LiAn­gelo Ball, Cody Ri­ley and Jalen Hill said noth­ing upon their re­turn from China on Tues­day evening. The 111⁄2-hour Delta flight car­ry­ing the trio of fresh­men had just ar­rived at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port from Shang­hai, end­ing a nearly week­long or­deal in which they had been ques­tioned over the al­leged shoplift­ing of de­signer sun­glasses.

The play­ers do not face any charges in China, ac­cord­ing to a per­son close to the sit­u­a­tion not au­tho­rized to com­ment pub­licly be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, but any pun­ish­ment levied by UCLA has

not been de­ter­mined.

It was not clear whether the res­o­lu­tion of the case in China came as a re­sult of in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence or a ne­go­ti­ated deal in­volv­ing Pres­i­dent Trump, who in­ter­vened on the play­ers’ be­half last week with Chi­nese coun­ter­part Xi Jin­ping.

Trump, speak­ing to re­porters on Air Force One on Tues­day, im­plied that there had been some type of mis­con­duct in­volv­ing the play­ers.

“What they did was un­for­tu­nate,” Trump said. “You know, you’re talk­ing about very long prison sen­tences . ... They do not play games” in China.

Trump cred­ited Xi with as­sist­ing in the mat­ter, say­ing the Chi­nese leader “has been ter­rific on that sub­ject. But that was not a good sub­ject. That was not some­thing that should have hap­pened.”

UCLA pre­vailed in the Pac-12 China Game with­out the three fresh­men, beat­ing Ge­or­gia Tech 63-60 in a some­what dis­jointed per­for­mance dur­ing both teams’ sea­son opener. The Bruins used only eight play­ers while strug­gling to put away an op­po­nent who was also short­handed be­cause of its own dis­ci­plinary con­cerns in­volv­ing two sus­pended play­ers who re­ceived im­proper ben­e­fits.

Ball, Ri­ley and Hill were all ex­pected to be an im­por­tant part of UCLA’s im­proved depth this sea­son. Ball and Ri­ley came off the bench dur­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion vic­tory over Cal State Los An­ge­les on Nov. 1 and Hill did not play be­cause of knee sore­ness.

The No. 21 Bruins will play their home opener Wed­nes­day night at Pauley Pavil­ion against Cen­tral Arkansas. Ball, Ri­ley and Hill are sched­uled to de­liver state­ments to the me­dia sev­eral hours be­fore the game on cam­pus with­out tak­ing ques­tions. UCLA coach Steve Al­ford and ath­letic di­rec­tor Dan Guer­rero are also ex­pected to speak with re­porters.

Al­though they es­caped pun­ish­ment in China, the play­ers could be dis­ci­plined by their school. UCLA Chan­cel­lor Gene Block re­leased a state­ment ex­press­ing re­lief over the play­ers’ re­turn but ac­knowl­edg­ing that the school was as­sess­ing the mat­ter to de­ter­mine any pun­ish­ment.

“I want to be clear that we take se­ri­ously any vi­o­la­tions of the law,” Block said in his state­ment to the UCLA com­mu­nity. “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.

“When mem­bers of the UCLA fam­ily fail to up­hold th­ese val­ues, we re­view th­ese in­ci­dents with fair and thor­ough pro­cesses. In this par­tic­u­lar case, both Ath­let­ics and the Of­fice of Stu­dent Con­duct will re­view this in­ci­dent and guide any ac­tion with re­spect to the in­volved stu­dents. Such pro­ceed­ings are con­fi­den­tial, which lim­its the spe­cific in­for­ma­tion that can be shared.”

The fresh­men had spent most of the pre­vi­ous week in­side a lake­side ho­tel in Hangzhou af­ter be­ing ques­tioned by au­thor­i­ties over al­legedly shoplift­ing from a nearby up­scale mall.

Dressed in black ath­letic pants and light jack­ets with blue UCLA back­packs slung over their shoul­ders, the play­ers ex­ited through the de­par­tures level of the Tom Bradley ter­mi­nal upon their re­turn Tues­day. They eluded about 15 re­porters and cam­era­men perched above the ramp where in­ter­na­tional pas­sen­gers typ­i­cally en­ter the ar­rivals area on the lower level.

But the play­ers could not es­cape an­other 15 or so jour­nal­ists and pa­parazzi who thrust mi­cro­phones into their faces and made ref­er­ences to LaVar Ball, LiAn­gelo’s fa­ther, as well as Lonzo Ball, the Lak­ers rookie who is LiAn­gelo’s older brother. Ri­ley held his right arm over his eyes to shield them from the glare of cam­eras.

Ac­com­pa­nied by Chris Carl­son, the UCLA as­so­ciate ath­letic di­rec­tor who over­sees bas­ket­ball, and Doug Erick­son, the team’s di­rec­tor of bas­ket­ball ad­min­is­tra­tion, the play­ers re­mained si­lent amid re­peated in­quiries from the pa­parazzi who walked along­side them on their way out of the ter­mi­nal and into an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

ben.bolch@la­times.com Staff writ­ers Brian Ben­nett and Jes­sica Meyers con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Gary Coron­ado Los An­ge­les Times

LiAN­GELO BALL and his two UCLA team­mates said noth­ing to re­porters on their re­turn from China.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

THE UCLA PLAY­ERS couldn’t avoid all the cam­era­men and re­porters upon re­turn­ing to Los An­ge­les, and they were bom­barded with ques­tions.

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