Three UCLA Players Remain in China Amid Theft Probe

Rest of college’s basketball team returns to U.S. after trip that was to be a sign of Sino-U.S. goodwill

 
 

LiAngelo Ball during the UCLA UnderArmor Venice Beach Takeover in Venice, Calif., in October.
LiAngelo Ball during the UCLA UnderArmor Venice Beach Takeover in Venice, Calif., in October. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS
 

SHANGHAI—UCLA’s basketball team left China on Saturday night without three players who are being investigated for shoplifting in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, indicating their legal troubles continue at the end of a dramatic week.

Hangzhou police said they questioned the players—LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill—at a station house on Tuesday about suspected shoplifting but that day released them without charges to their hotel while the investigation continues. The young men have remained at the hotel since then, rarely venturing out of the luxury room they share, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Often in a Chinese criminal investigation, someone being questioned is asked by police to remain in the city where the probe is being conducted.

he players have declined to answer questions, including on Saturday when approached by a Wall Street Journal reporter.

The U.S. State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, and White House officials said they had no comment.

 The three players have been biding time in adjoining corner rooms on a club floor of the Hyatt Regency Hangzhou, with their curtains drawn and a “Do Not Disturb” sign illuminated at the door. The rooms feature views of ancient temples and Hangzhou’s famed West Lake on a floor where a single room costs more than $400 a night. Two UCLA officials are in China with the players, according to a person familiar with the matter.

On Saturday, about three hours before they had been scheduled to debut as freshmen players for UCLA, the trio was 100 miles south of the game arena, having breakfast in the Hyatt’s VIP rooftop club. They were dressed casually in T-shirts and appeared in good spirits. Along with a UCLA executive accompanying them, they ignored a reporter’s questions. There was no police presence.

The UCLA basketball players, along with Georgia Tech’s team, arrived in China last weekend to participate in marketing events on behalf of their host, the Hangzhou-based e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , which in recent years has sponsored a U.S. college game in China.

It was slated as a trip of Sino-U.S. goodwill, basketball diplomacy just as Donald Trump was making his first visit to China as U.S. president. It also coincided with a China publicity push featuring Mr. Ball’s high-profile sporting family, including the local launch of their shoe line and shots for a reality-television production called “Ball in the Family.”

But an episode of alleged shoplifting of sunglasses on Monday at a Louis Vuitton store adjacent to the Hangzhou hotel triggered a call to the police, prompting an investigation into the three players, say people with knowledge of the situation.

The players remained in Hangzhou while UCLA’s other players and cheerleaders went on to Shanghai, taking in its new Disneyland.

Saturday’s game, against Georgia Tech, the season opener, wasn’t broadcast in the hotel; UCLA won 63-60.

On Saturday night, the trio was nowhere to be seen when the team gathered around theDelta Air Lines check-in counter at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport for a flight back to Los Angeles. The check-in process concluded at 8:20 p.m. and the plane departed less than an hour later.

Chinese authorities said they intend to pursue the case according to local laws but haven’t commented on specifics. The investigation phase of police work in China can take weeks, concluding in a decision on whether formal arrests will be made and charges filed.

Corrections & Amplifications 
A previous photo with this article featured an image of a player who is not the Jalen Hill of UCLA. (Nov. 11)

Write to James T. Areddy at james.areddy@wsj.com

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