ABOVE PHOTO: UCLA basketball player Cody Riley, left, reads his statement as he is joined by teammates LiAngelo Ball, center, and Jalen Hill during a news conference at UCLA Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles. Three UCLA NCAA college basketball players accused of shoplifting in China admitted to the crime and apologized before coach Steve Alford announced they were being suspended indefinitely. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he should have left three UCLA basketball players accused of shoplifting in China in jail.
Trump’s tweet Sunday comes after the father of player LiAngelo Ball minimized Trump’s involvement in winning the players’ release in comments to ESPN.
“Who?” LaVar Ball told ESPN on Friday, when asked about Trump’s involvement in the matter. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”
Trump has said he raised the players’ detention with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the leaders’ recent meeting in Beijing.
The players returned to the U.S. last week. They have been indefinitely suspended from the team.
Says Trump: “Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!”
Trump later tweeted: “Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!”
The younger Ball, along with fellow freshmen Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, aren’t with the rest of the No. 23 Bruins, who are in Kansas City to play in the Hall of Fame Classic on Monday and Tuesday. The trio isn’t allowed to suit up, be on the bench for home games or travel with the team.
The players were arrested and questioned about stealing from high-end stores next to the team’s hotel in Hangzhou, where the Bruins stayed before leaving for Shanghai to play Georgia Tech.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said last week that the players stole from three stores.
“As long as my boy’s back here, I’m fine,” LaVar Ball told ESPN. “I’m happy with how things were handled. A lot of people like to say a lot of things that they thought happened over there. Like I told him, ‘They try to make a big deal out of nothing sometimes.’
“I’m from LA. I’ve seen a lot worse things happen than a guy taking some glasses. My son has built up enough character that one bad decision doesn’t define him. Now if you can go back and say when he was 12 years old he was shoplifting and stealing cars and going wild, then that’s a different thing,” he said.
“Everybody gets stuck on the negativity of some things and they get stuck on them too long. That’s not me. I handle what’s going on and then we go from there.”
Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors coach who has been critical of Trump, talked about the situation Sunday before his team’s game in Brooklyn.
“Two people seeking attention and they’re both getting it, so I’m sure both guys are really happy,” Kerr said. “You know what would help? If all of you just stopped covering both of them. Is that possible? You could probably stop covering LaVar. I don’t think you can stop covering the president. I don’t think that will work.”
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, retweeted Trump’s tweet and included his own comment.
“The President would have left American students in a foreign jail because their families didn’t lavish sufficient praise on him,” Schiff wrote. “How can someone in such a big office be so small?”