Trump exhorts UCLA trio to thank Xi for release in China

Steve Alford, Jalen Hill
UCLA head coach Steve Alford, right, listens as Jalen Hill reads his statement 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 (AP) — President Donald Trump is exhorting three suspended UCLA basketball players to thank Chinese President Xi Jinping for their freedom following a shoplifting incident while they were in China.

Trump had tweeted Wednesday: “Do you think the three UCLA basketball p layers will say thank you President Trump. They were headed for 10 years in jail.”

The trio apologized later Wednesday and publicly thanked Trump, who was in Asia last week, for his help. On Thursday morning, the president sent another tweet saying, “You’re welcome. go out and give a big Thank You to President Xi Jinping of China who made your release possible.”

In the same tweet, Trump said, “HAVE A GREAT LIFE! Be careful, there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!”

Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were detained in Hangzhou for questioning following allegations of shoplifting last week before the Bruins beat Georgia Tech in their season-opening game in Shanghai. The rest of the UCLA team returned home Saturday.

Athletic director Dan Guerrero said the incident occurred when the team was given 90 minutes of free time on Nov. 6 in Hangzhou. He said the three visited several stores and took items from three stores.

Coach Steve Alford announced Wednesday the players were being suspended indefinitely and said they would have to earn their way back onto the team.