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UCLA forward Jalen Hill says he is retiring from basketball

Jalen Hill on the court.
UCLA forward Jalen Hill passes the ball against San Diego on Dec. 9, 2020.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Citing “a bunch of anxiety and depression problems” that started when he was arrested for shoplifting in China before his collegiate debut, UCLA redshirt junior forward Jalen Hill said Tuesday that he was retiring from basketball.

Hill made his announcement during a six-minute Instagram video, acknowledging that he did not speak publicly earlier because he did not want to distract from his team’s run to the Final Four. He had departed the Bruins in early February, with the team citing personal reasons.

“I just had to distance myself because the headspace I was in, it was damaging the team,” Hill said in the video. “So I didn’t want to restrict them from achieving their goals too.”

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Hill said his issues snowballed over the past year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After missing the season’s first two games because of knee tendinitis, he struggled to round into form, averaging 6.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in the 14 games before his departure.

Embroiled in an international scandal before his first game at UCLA, Hill and teammates Cody Riley and LiAngelo Ball were detained after stealing items from three stores during the team’s trip to China to play Georgia Tech in the opening game of the 2017-18 season. Ball later left the team, and Hill and Riley were suspended for the season.

Hill returned the following season, eventually becoming the team’s top interior defender and best rebounder. He said stepping away from the game had sparked unprecedented joy.

“Like, I never felt this happy before in my life,” Hill said. “Like, I just wake up and I’m just happy to be alive and it sounds crazy to say but it’s just true and I’ve never felt like this in my life and it was hard to me to go back to the team when I was trying to go back to a past life when I was trying to live up to somebody’s expectations of me, trying to live up to somebody’s perception of how my life should be instead of just being who I am.

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“That’s the greatest gift you could ever give to anybody is just being who you are and I was doing stuff that was not me, so when I figured out that I couldn’t really go back, especially all the good stuff that’s been happening to me recently.”

Hill’s departure will open a scholarship that the Bruins could fill with a graduate transfer. Among the possibilities is forward Myles Johnson, a former Long Beach Poly High standout who recently left Rutgers to enter the transfer portal.

Hill offered to help anyone going through similar mental health issues, suggesting they contact him.

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“For the people that have anxiety and depression problems, feel free to hit me up if you don’t have anybody else to talk to,” Hill said. “I ain’t saying I have everything figured out — I don’t have the keys or nothing like that — but I’ve for sure been through it and I do have some wisdom on all the mental health problems.”


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