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UCLA's basketball team tries to block out distractions caused by players suspended in China incident

UCLA's basketball team tries to block out distractions caused by players suspended in China incident
UCLA coach Steve Alford watches his No. 23 Bruins fall to the Creighton Blue Jays 100-89 during a game at the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 20. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

UCLA men’s basketball coach Steve Alford said Monday he has had no update on the status of three freshmen players who are suspended indefinitely after being detained in China.

LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill were held on suspicion of shoplifting at three luxury stores in Hangzhou during the Bruins’ visit in conjunction with the season opener against Georgia Tech. The case made international headlines, especially with President Trump in China for a highly publicized tour of Asia.

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Alford said he doesn’t know how long Ball, Riley and Hill will be suspended.

The disciplinary case is being handled by UCLA’s Office of Student Conduct, which gives dean of students Maria Blandizzi wide latitude to determine the appropriate punishment.

“It’s still [with] Student Conduct … we have no control over that,” Alford said.

Trump has said he helped secure the players’ release after a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

All three players apologized for the incident and thanked Trump at a news conference upon returning to UCLA, but that didn’t stop the drama.

LaVar Ball — the father of LiAngelo and his older brother, former UCLA star and Laker first-round pick Lonzo Ball — has questioned Trump’s role in the matter, and gone back-and-forth with the president through the media.

Trump tweeted his displeasure toward LaVar Ball on Sunday, saying “I should have left them in jail!”

Alford said he hasn’t paid attention to the Ball-Trump bickering.

“My whole focus has been on Creighton,” Alford said. “I control what I control; this team controls what we control. And what we can control is our locker room. That didn’t have one thing to do with how we guarded tonight.”

UCLA (3-1), which is ranked No. 23 by the Associated Press, suffered its first loss of the season 100-89 on Monday against Creighton in Kansas City.

Junior Aaron Holiday shrugged off the suggestion that it’s been a challenge to block out the early-season distractions, including Trump’s tweets.

“No, there’s no excuse,” Holiday said. “We don’t have any excuses over here. Everybody’s got to suit up and put their clothes and shoes on the same way. There’s no excuses.”

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Still, the suspensions leave an already young Bruins squad shorthanded during a tedious stretch of the games.

“Right now, we’re playing eight guys,” Alford said. “Five didn’t play last year for us, so there’s going to be a learning curve. We’ve got to be patient just as long as we can see some strides.”

In addition to logging more than 7,000 travel miles through China and making the trek to Kansas City for two games this week, UCLA also plays at Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., and tussles with Kentucky in New Orleans before Christmas.

“We’re going to build some toughness here in November and December,” Alford said. “It wasn’t an ideal schedule, that’s for sure. We’re playing six BCS schools, which is more than anybody in the country, and we’ve got to do a lot of travel. … We’ve got to handle that travel, show some toughness and try to mature as quickly as we can.”

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