LOS ANGELES: Three US college basketball players detained in China for shoplifting publicly apologized Wednesday and thanked President Donald Trump for helping secure their release.
Trump had personally asked Chinese leader Xi Jinping to intervene to free UCLA’s LiAngelo Ball — the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie star Lonzo Ball — and teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, who were arrested last Tuesday in Hangzhou.
The trio were held on suspicion of stealing from a Louis Vuitton store and later freed on bail but ordered to remain in the picturesque Chinese city.
Shoplifting can bring jail time in China depending on the value of the goods.
On Wednesday, all three admitted their guilt at a news conference in Los Angeles, one day after returning home.
“I take full responsibilities for the mistake that I made, shoplifting. I know that this goes beyond me letting my school down but I let the entire country down,” said Riley.
“Before I thank everybody who worked so incredibly hard helping us returning home safely, I want to thank the Chinese government and the police for taking care of us. And to President Trump and the United States government, thank you for taking the time to intervene on our behalf.”
Ball told reporters he had not exercised his “best judgment” and vowed never to repeat the “stupid decision” to steal, also thanking Trump, as well as the Chinese police and UCLA.
“This does not define who I am. My family raised me better than that and I am going to make myself a better person from here on out,” he added.
Hill told reporters he wanted to be known for his love of basketball rather than “this dumb mistake.”
“This incident has changed me in a way that I cannot describe. I have so much more respect from the people around me from coaches and staff and the fans of UCLA,” he said.
UCLA head coach Steve Alford said the trio had been suspended indefinitely and would not travel with the team or suit up for home games.
Alford thanked “President Trump and his administration for their nonstop efforts” in resolving the case.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump tweeted about his role in urging Xi to secure the trio’s release.
“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!” Trump mused.
The case drew attention in the United States due to the involvement of Ball, one of three high-profile basketball-playing sons of LaVar Ball.
The elder Ball has become a media personality by aggressively promoting his sons as future NBA superstars and had travelled to China on the trip to promote his Big Baller Brand shoe and apparel line.