U.C.L.A. Players Returning Home After Trump Asks Xi for Help

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U.C.L.A. Players Returning Home After Trump Asks Xi for Help
President Trump with President Xi Jinping on Thursday in Beijing. Mr. Trump said that three U.C.L.A. players arrested in China were in a “very, very rough situation.” Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

MANILA — Three U.C.L.A. basketball players who had been detained in China on suspicion of shoplifting were on their way back to Los Angeles on Tuesday after President Trump appealed to President Xi Jinping of China on their behalf.

The players were arrested last week in Hangzhou, China, and accused of stealing designer sunglasses at a shopping mall.

“The three U.C.L.A. men’s basketball student-athletes involved in the incident with authorities in Hangzhou, China, are on a flight back home to Los Angeles,” the Pac-12, the athletics conference to which the university belongs, said in a statement, adding that “the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Chinese authorities.”

“We want to thank the president, the White House and the U.S. State Department for their efforts towards resolution,” the statement said, after the release of the players from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Earlier, Mr. Trump told reporters as he was leaving the Philippines after a 12-day trip to Asia that, “I had a great conversation with President Xi.”

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“What they did was unfortunate,” Mr. Trump had said of the players. “You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. They do not play games.”

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U.C.L.A. Players Returning Home After Trump Asks Xi for Help
LiAngelo Ball, left, and Cody Riley, right, were accused along with Jalen Hill of shoplifting. Credit Associated Press

Mr. Trump had said that he hoped the Chinese president would help the players: LiAngelo Ball, a freshman guard; and Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, both freshman forwards. He emphasized that it was a “very, very rough situation, with what happened to them.”

In China, where the justice system has a very high conviction rate, theft can bring punishment ranging from a few days to years in prison.

The three players were arrested this past Tuesday, accused of shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store next to their hotel in Hangzhou, in eastern China, where they were planning to play in a tournament. They were released on bail last Wednesday but were reportedly confined to the hotel. (Playing without the three freshmen, U.C.L.A. defeated Georgia Tech, 63-60, in Shanghai on Friday.)

Mr. Trump has made much of his personal rapport with Mr. Xi, who hosted a lavish state visit last week for the president in Beijing. The two leaders met again at an economic summit meeting on Sunday in Vietnam, where Mr. Trump raised the case.

“He’s been terrific,” the president said. “President Xi has been terrific on that subject.”

Mr. Trump, who said he had learned of the case only at the weekend, said he hoped the players would soon be able to return to the United States.

The most high-profile of the three who had been detained was Mr. Ball, the middle of the three “Ball Brothers.” The eldest, Lonzo, plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the youngest, LaMelo, is a high schooler who has committed to play at U.C.L.A. Their father, LaVar, has become a public figure, and has started a sports-apparel company, Big Baller Brand. Facebook has been filming a reality series focusing on them, “Ball in the Family.”

The U.C.L.A. team’s trip to China had been seen as a way to raise the profile of the university in that country, possibly attracting students who have well-to-do parents and who want to study abroad. Many American universities in recent years have increasingly relied on tuition payments from foreign students.

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