SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Three UCLA men’s basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting on Tuesday, media reports said, a day before U.S. President Donald Trump landed there 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.
The University of California, Los Angeles, declined to confirm the arrests.
“We are aware of a situation involving UCLA student-athletes in Hangzhou, China,” UCLA Athletics said in a statement provided by spokeswoman Shana Wilson. “The university is cooperating fully with local authorities on this matter, and we have no further comment at this time.”
The UCLA team arrived in Shanghai on Sunday ahead of a game on Friday, when it will play Georgia Tech in both teams’ regular-season opener, according to statements from both teams.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott also declined to confirm the arrests, but 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.”
The three players were questioned about stealing from a Louis Vuitton store next to the hotel where the team is staying, ESPN reported.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to host Trump in Beijing on Wednesday after the U.S. president’s visit to Seoul.
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.
LaVar Ball was filmed leaving a hotel and boarding a van for what Markazi said was a sightseeing tour of Shanghai with his family. LiAngelo was apparently not with them.
White House officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Hangzhou-based tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), which sponsors the annual Pac-12 basketball games in China, 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 Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Editing by Ben Klayman, Matthew Lewis and Nick Macfie