UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford says he's "surprised" that LiAngelo Ball is leaving the Bruins program but defended his and the university's actions after Ball's shoplifting incident in China and subsequent criticism from his father, LaVar.
Asked about his reaction to LiAngelo Ball's withdrawal from the university, Alford on Tuesday told a group of reporters (via ESPN), "I don't think it's angry. I think it was more, maybe, 'surprised.' If you're looking for one word, maybe it's 'surprised' because it's nothing that we saw coming.
"LiAngelo has been, since coming back (from China), he's been tremendous. He's been to all of his classes, he's been to all the tutors, all the mentors. He's done exactly what's been asked of him."
However, Alford said he hasn't talked with LiAngelo or LaVar Ball since news broke that LaVar had withdrawn the freshman from school, purportedly to prepare for the 2018 NBA Draft, though many consider him a long shot to follow his older brother, Lonzo, to the NBA.
LiAngelo Ball was ranked the 226th-best prospect in high school basketball, has not played a minute of NCAA hoops. Can someone explain why anyone would even entertain the notion that he could be taken seriously by the NBA?
— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) December 5, 2017
"Why for? I didn't make that decision, so I'm here," Alford said when asked if he plans to reach out to the Balls. "I'm at Pauley (Pavilion) every day. I'm at the Ostin Center every day working, so if they need to talk, they know where to find me."
Earlier in the day Tuesday, LaVar Ball said in an interview on CNN that UCLA’s coaches should shoulder some of the responsibility for the situation in China involving Ball and two other Bruins freshmen that blew up into an international incident.
"There's no accountability to them?" LaVar said. "Let's stand up to bat (for the players) and say you're the coach. Coaches are making enough money. They've gotta hold some accountability."
LaVar Ball on pulling his son off the UCLA basketball team: “That’s one of the main reasons he went to UCLA is to play basketball. That’s his passion. And for them to prolong this and go on and on, it’s ridiculous to me.” pic.twitter.com/5p9otRVzIy
— CNN (@CNN) December 5, 2017
Alford, however, defended himself against LaVar's criticism.
“I’ve been doing this (coaching) for 27 years, and playing before that,’’ Alford said (via USA Today). “These guys are 17, 18 years of age. It’s not like we turned them loose (in in Hangzhou) to go across town. They had a 90-minute window to walk around in an area outside the hotel. They were told not to go individually, so they were going to be in a group, and they’re adults.
“How you carry yourself at 17 and 18, I think they know what’s right and wrong.’’
The other two freshmen detained in China for shoplifting — Jalen Hill and Cody Riley — remain enrolled at UCLA but suspended indefinitely.
The university disciplinary process via the office of student conduct is ongoing, Alford said Tuesday, adding that he didn't have a timeline for when it would be finished.