Until LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were arrested for shoplifting in China, this was going to be one of Steve Alford’s deepest teams at UCLA. All three are freshmen who are/were expected to earn spots in the Bruins’ rotation, and Riley, the No. 44 player in the class of 2017, had/has a chance to start at power forward.
So despite losing their top four scorers off last year’s team, the Bruins enter this season ranked 21st by the Associated Press.
Officially, UCLA begins the season Friday against Georgia Tech. But its first real test has already begun, against the Chinese government. China is expected to detain the three players for at least a month, with the possibility of 3-10 years in prison hanging over all three heads. There is also the possibility the charges are dropped, or reduced, and this whole thing is over by Thanksgiving. This is China we’re talking about. These sorts of procedures aren’t necessarily carried out in the open.
Riley and Hill were both Rivals.com top 100 players, while Ball was a three-star prospect. The star of the class, five-star point guard Jaylen Hands, is still available, as are big man Thomas Welsh and guard Aaron Holiday, who both averaged double figures in scoring last season. You can’t call this a depleted roster, but for at least the next month, it is no longer a deep one.
The good news, if there is any, for UCLA, is that the Bruins don’t face a ranked opponent until No. 12 Cincinnati on Dec. 16. In fact, Georgia Tech and Michigan (Dec. 9) are the only major-conference schools UCLA faces until Christmas break, when it plays No. 5 Kentucky right before beginning Pac-12 play.
But if and when those players return to UCLA’s team, it will be after spending several weeks in a Chinese hotel they aren’t allowed to leave. By the time they get back into playing shape, the season will be half over, the rest of the team will have gelled without them, and they’ll still be freshman needing to adjust to college basketball.
Unless something dramatically changes, and soon, this season is going to be a wash for these players, and that’s if they’re allowed to return at all.