In a high-profile divorce between UCLA and one of its most prominent basketball families, the father of freshman shooting guard LiAngelo Ball said Monday that he intended to withdraw his son from school.
LaVar Ball told The Times that the withdrawal was the result of his dissatisfaction with UCLA's handling of LiAngelo's indefinite suspension for his acknowledged role in a shoplifting incident last month in China.
"He might as well be in jail," LaVar Ball said in a telephone interview. "I'm not going to let UCLA take the fire out of my boy by not letting him play for two months.
"We're going to do some other options. I'm not going to let him sit back and not practice."
A person with knowledge of UCLA's academic policies said LiAngelo would have to withdraw himself from school since he is no longer a minor.
LiAngelo Ball and fellow Bruins freshmen Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were suspended after they admitted to shoplifting from three stores inside an upscale mall in Hangzhou, China, during UCLA's season-opening trip to play Georgia Tech in Shanghai. The trio has also been barred from all team activities as part of the punishment.
Coach Steve Alford recently indicated that he expected a decision on the length of the players' suspensions to come in a matter of weeks.
"We learned today of LiAngelo Ball's intention to withdraw from UCLA," Alford said in a statement. "We respect the decision he and his family have made, and we wish him all the best in the future."
LiAngelo's only public remarks as a member of the Bruins came during an apology he issued last month. LiAngelo, Hill and Riley expressed their remorse in a Pauley Pavilion media room crammed with reporters and photographers, reading from prepared statements.
"We're young men," LiAngelo said at the time. "However, it's not an excuse for making a really stupid decision. I don't feel sorry for myself and I've learned my lesson from this big mistake and I'm 110% sure that I'm not making a bad decision like this one again."
The three freshmen involved in the shoplifting incident were allowed to return to the United States after President Trump intervened on their behalf with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. The players posted bail but were never formally charged.
LaVar said he had not spoken with anyone at UCLA about withdrawing his son.
"I'm taking him and I'm gone," LaVar said.
Asked whether LiAngelo agreed with the decision, LaVar said, "My boy is loyal to me. I tried to let UCLA deal with the process and he should have been playing the next week."
LiAngelo, 6 feet 5 and 215 pounds, had lost 20 pounds since his senior season at Chino Hills High, when he averaged 33.8 points per game. A high-volume shooter, LiAngelo was expected to come off the bench for the Bruins this season.
His only formal appearance in a UCLA uniform came during an exhibition game against Cal State Los Angeles in which he scored 11 points in 16 minutes off the bench. LaVar had said last month that LiAngelo would attend UCLA for only one season before declaring for the NBA draft, following the path of his older brother.
Lonzo Ball starred for the Bruins last season, leading one of the nation's most efficient offenses before being selected the Pac-12 Conference's freshman of the year. The Lakers made him the No. 2 overall selection in the NBA draft.
An NBA scout said it was unlikely that LiAngelo would be drafted.
"LiAngelo Ball is a good shooter but does not bring much more to the table," the scout said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss college players. "I believe it is widely accepted among NBA personnel that he is not an NBA player, even before his off-court issues."
LiAngelo's younger brother, LaMelo, faces an uncertain basketball future even though his father insisted he remained committed to UCLA. LaVar recently withdrew LaMelo from Chino Hills and embarked on a home-schooling program because of a disagreement with the school's basketball coach.
LaMelo is a high school junior. His amateur status is in doubt because of his promotional appearances on behalf of Big Baller Brand, the family's clothing and shoe label.
Yahoo Sports reported that LaMelo and LiAngelo were exploring options to play internationally, which would put an end to any possibility of them playing in college.
Alford indicated before the season that he was not concerned with any meddling by LaVar, noting how respectful Lonzo had been during his seven months on campus.
"Everything I've seen through three months now with 'Gelo has been just the same," Alford said at the time. "Just a terrific individual and he's learning his role now and he's competing and he's trying to figure out where he's going to fit and doing everything right. He's just been a complete joy to coach, so I don't see that being any issue at all."
4:30 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout.
2:40 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford.