What should UCLA do with play­ers de­tained in China?

The Times-Tribune - - Sports - BILL PLASCHKE

The three UCLA fresh­man bas­ket­ball play­ers de­tained in China are fi­nally com­ing home, but the em­bar­rass­ing story isn’t over.

What do the Bru­ins do with them now?

LiAn­gelo Ball, Cody Ri­ley and Jalen Hill were on a flight back to Los An­ge­les on Tues­day af­ter be­ing con­fined to their Hangzhou ho­tel for a week on sus­pi­cion of shoplift­ing dur­ing UCLA’s re­cent visit, but their saga con­tin­ues.

Once back, will they be al­lowed to re­turn to the bas­ket­ball court? It is im­por­tant to note that the play­ers were freed with­out charges be­ing filed in China. Yet in­di­ca­tions are that some­thing hap­pened, and it wasn’t good.

There was one me­dia re­port that the play­ers were caught on sur­veil­lance video steal­ing sun­glasses from a Louis Vuit­ton store, and an­other that they shoplifted from sev­eral stores.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Tues­day that he spoke with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping about the sit­u­a­tion. De­scrib­ing that con­ver­sa­tion, he im­plied that some wrong­do­ing had oc­curred.

“Pres­i­dent Xi has been ter­rific on that sub­ject,” Trump told re­porters aboard Air Force One near the con­clu­sion of his two-week visit to Asia. “But that was not a good sub­ject. That was not some­thing that should have hap­pened.”

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

The play­ers are sched­uled to ap­pear in front of the me­dia with school of­fi­cials and make a state­ment this morn­ing, but here’s guess­ing they won’t of­fer many con­crete an­swers.

Un­less that sur­veil­lance video is re­leased, the pub­lic may never know ex­actly what hap­pened. But UCLA surely knows. And if the three stu­dents had any sort of in­volve­ment in some­thing so ap­pallingly en­ti­tled and dumb while on a school trip to a for­eign coun­try, UCLA’s next move should be clear.

School au­thor­i­ties should say wel­come home, and see you next sea­son.

Their stu­dents and alumni will be watch­ing. Their world­wide busi­ness con­nec­tions will be watch­ing. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment will be watch­ing. If a wrong has been com­mit­ted, every­one will be wait­ing for UCLA to

do the right thing, and a swift and strong penalty is the only thing that makes sense.

They should say nice to have you back, but you are sus­pended for a year.

If UCLA of­fi­cials are look­ing for prece­dent here, they don’t have to look far. In the sum­mer of 2010, three of UCLA’s in­com­ing fresh­man foot­ball play­ers were charged with felony theft af­ter be­ing caught steal­ing a back­pack con­tain­ing items worth about $1,200.

Paul Richard­son, Shaquille Richard­son and Josh Shirley were de­cent kids who did a dumb thing. They were also ex­cel­lent ath­letes and top-50-in-the-na­tion re­cruits whose loss would even­tu­ally cut into the foot­ball’s team depth.

But they never played a down for the Bru­ins. All three play­ers were quickly sus­pended for the sea­son by then-coach Rich Neuheisel. They were not al­lowed to con­tinue sum­mer school or en­roll for the fall quar­ter. A few days later, all three de­cided to trans­fer.

The felony was down­graded to a mis­de­meanor, and all three even­tu­ally found homes at Pac-12 Con­fer­ence ri­vals, and all three went on to have ca­reers in pro­fes­sional foot­ball, with re­ceiver Paul Richard­son cur­rently play­ing well for the Seat­tle Sea­hawks.

But Neuheisel made the right state­ment about stu­dent in­tegrity and ac­count­abil­ity. The three had bro­ken rules and, de­spite their ath­letic prow­ess, they needed to be ed­u­cated on the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of rep­re­sent­ing the univer­sity.

“I de­cided I’ve got to teach those kids that play­ing col­lege foot­ball is a priv­i­lege, not a right,” re­called Neuheisel, now a CBS Sports col­lege foot­ball an­a­lyst. “I told their par­ents, I want them all to take a quar­ter off, I want them to see what they gave up, see ex­actly how they screwed up.”

The sea­son-long sus­pen­sion raised some eye­brows, par­tic­u­larly since Neuheisel was fight­ing to keep a job he would lose a sea­son later. The move was de­bated fur­ther in the sum­mer of 2011, when Bru­ins bas­ket­ball player Jer­ime An­der­son was ar­rested and con­victed of steal­ing a lap­top, yet was just sus­pended for two games by then-coach Ben How­land.

“There was some sur­prise that I was that harsh,” Neuheisel said. “And see­ing all that hap­pened later, I could have been sit­ting there think­ing, ‘How smart was I?’”

It was a tough de­ci­sion, but it was the right de­ci­sion, and Neuheisel said he would do the same thing again.

“I know this, I slept well,” Neuheisel said. “Those kids had to know, they can’t do some­thing like this.”

If they were part of any sim­i­lar be­hav­ior, these three Bru­ins bas­ket­ball play­ers need to know the same thing. And if Bru­ins coach Steve Al­ford holds true to the eth­i­cal val­ues that he claims to have brought to the pro­gram, he will tell them.

The play­ers could use their lost sea­son as a red­shirt year, or they can go else­where like the three foot­ball play­ers. It doesn’t mat­ter. But if they com­mit­ted a crime, they can­not suit up, be­cause this is far big­ger than the Bru­ins.

“This is about more than just UCLA now, this is the univer­sity’s in­tegrity, this is our coun­try’s in­tegrity, all of that is at stake if the ap­pro­pri­ate penalty is not given,” Neuheisel said.

While none of the three Bruin fresh­men were likely to be stars this year, a sea­son­long sus­pen­sion would dec­i­mate the Bru­ins bench and sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect the team’s chances of mak­ing March Mad­ness.

Too bad. The state­ment would be more im­por­tant than a record.

Also, there is a chance that, if sus­pended, Ball would leave school al­to­gether, con­sid­er­ing his blus­tery fa­ther LaVar has al­ready said that his son would only play one sea­son. This could also mean that his lit­tle brother LaMelo, cur­rently a high school ju­nior, would not even­tu­ally en­roll in UCLA as planned.

Again, too bad. The Bru­ins can no longer be be­holden to a fam­ily whose pa­tri­arch’s con­stant smack talk can in­fect a col­lege locker room.

The Lak­ers can ig­nore Ball and his ram­blings about old­est son Lonzo. For UCLA and its im­pres­sion­able young peo­ple, it’s more dif­fi­cult.

Last sea­son, LaVar Ball said of UCLA: “Re­al­is­ti­cally, you can’t win no cham­pi­onship with three white guys be­cause the foot speed is too slow.”

Last week, af­ter the shoplift­ing al­le­ga­tions sur­faced, LaVar Ball told ESPN: “Everybody is mak­ing it a big deal. It ain’t that big of a deal.”

Oh yeah? It be­came a big deal, an in­ter­na­tional deal, and if a crime has been com­mit­ted, here’s hop­ing UCLA prop­erly deals with it. BILL PLASCHKE is a sports colum­nist for The Los An­ge­les Times (TNS)

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