LOS ANGELES — UCLA coach Steve Alford said he was caught by surprise when he learned through media reports that suspended freshman guard LiAngelo Ball was leaving the basketball team and withdrawing from school.
“I’m not angry. I try not to get angry,” Alford said Tuesday. “This is a tough business … It’s about what I can control. LiAngelo has been, since coming back (from China), he’s been tremendous as far as (he’s) been to all his classes. He’s gone to all his tutors, all his mentors. He’s done exactly what’s been asked of him. I don’t think it’s angry. I think it’s more surprised if you’re looking for one word, it’s surprised because it’s nothing we saw coming.”
Ball’s father, LaVar Ball, has said he’s withdrawing his son from school so he can prepare to play in the NBA. LiAngelo Ball did not play in any of the Bruins’ eight games this season after being suspended indefinitely by UCLA for his involvement in a shoplifting incident during the team’s season-opening trip to China.
Alford said neither LaVar nor LiAngelo spoke to him about the decision to quit the team and leave school.
“We just learned through reports yesterday, I think shorty before or after practice” Alford said. “I can’t remember at this point because my whole attention has been on (next opponent) Montana, getting my team ready. Just hearing reports and then our staff reached out to family representation of the Balls, and they said that was their intent.”
Asked if he would reach out to the Ball family, Alford said, no. “Why for? I didn’t make that decision,” he said. “I’m here at Pauley Pavilion every day. If they need to talk to me, they know where to find me.”
Alford did not know if LiAngelo Ball had officially withdrawn from UCLA.
“It’s a disappointment there’s an end to that where he didn’t get to be a part of an incredible academic institution, so that’s out. He doesn’t get to be part of what I think is an incredible basketball program with great teammates and coaches that care about him,” Alford said. “So yeah, there’s definitely a disappointment that there’s some finality to that. This young man doesn’t get to participate in either one of those things because I think the academic side and what UCLA has to offer both academically and in basketball is off the charts.
“When you don’t get to experience that, that’s disappointing.”
Ball, along with fellow freshmen Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, were indefinitely suspended for their participation in the shoplifting incident during the Bruins’ trip to China last month. They are barred from all team activities. Ball, Hill and Riley publicly apologized for shoplifting while reading prepared statements at a campus news conference on Nov. 15.
Alford indicated Tuesday that he expected the fate of the other two suspended players to be resolved in the near term.
LiAngelo Ball told “Access Hollywood” in an interview aired Tuesday on the “Today” show that the players were in jail in China for 1 ½ days. Authorities eventually let them go home.
“It was horrible,” he said. “They take your clothes, you wear like whatever they have for you, a little jumpsuit or whatever, take your shoestrings and you just sit in a cement cell for however long. It’s just you and the officers and they don’t speak English.”
His father told “Access Hollywood” that his “grand plan” is for his three sons to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
LiAngelo is the middle child of Ball’s three sons. Oldest son Lonzo is a rookie with the Lakers after playing one successful season at UCLA. The elder Ball pulled his youngest son, LaMelo, out of Chino Hills High recently in favor of home schooling him.
“I’m going to get Gelo in shape, I’m going to work him out, we’re going to do some other things and he’s going to be headed to the NBA,” the elder ball said.
LaVar Ball and President Donald Trump have engaged in a public war of words since the three players returned from China. Ball minimized Trump’s involvement in winning the players’ release and Trump tweeted in response that he should have left the players in China in jail. The men’s exchanges escalated from there, with Trump calling Ball “an ungrateful fool.”
LaVar told “Access Hollywood” he sent Trump three pairs of Big Baller shoes in red, white and blue.