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College basketball: LiAngelo Ball leaving UCLA is best news Bruins could have gotten

Updated: 
December 5, 2017 - 12:05am

LOS ANGELES — After spending several weeks uncomfortably marinating in international embarrassment, the UCLA basketball team has finally received some good news.

The Bruins are getting out of the Ball business.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Monday, LaVar Ball confirmed that he is pulling middle son LiAngelo from school because he is unhappy with how LiAngelo has been treated after he and two teammates admitted shoplifting during UCLA’s season-opening trip to China.

LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley have been suspended indefinitely amid a clamor — including from this columnist — that they should be suspended for the season. Hey Dan Guerrero, are you going to pull the plug or not?

However, LaVar thinks LiAngelo should have been playing the week after the incident, and so he’s ordered his son back to their Chino Hills home.

“He might as well be in jail,” LaVar told the Times’ Eric Sondheimer. “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.”

All of which has UCLA officials undoubtedly offering a whispered hallelujah.

It’s sad that any student would leave a great academic institution simply because one of his parents doesn’t want him to endure an appropriate punishment for a wrongdoing that brought humiliation to his entire school.

Even sadder is that, because of his father’s distracting bluster, UCLA is better off without the kid.

Just as he had with son Lonzo’s Los Angeles Lakers, LaVar had already become a toxic distraction for LiAngelo’s Bruins. The difference is that while the Lakers are heavily invested in Lonzo, the Bruins have never really played with LiAngelo, 19, who wasn’t expected to have a big role on the team and is thus far not considered NBA material.

The Lakers need Lonzo so they must tolerate his father, something which is increasingly difficult in the wake of his repeated public criticism of Lakers coaches. This week, the Lakers even announced an enforcement of what some people are referring to as “The LaVar Ball Rule,” in which media members are not allowed to hang out after games in a Staples Center section reserved for players’ families and friends.

Either unable or unwilling to quiet LaVar themselves — can’t Magic Johnson just ask him to shut up? — the Lakers are trying to restrict LaVar’s access. As if that’s going to work.

If LiAngelo remained a Bruin, UCLA would be faced with the same problem. LiAngelo seems quiet and humble like his older brother Lonzo, but this is not about him, it’s about all the noise around him. Without LaVar in the background, the Bruins will revel in renewed focus and quiet.

They can distance themselves from LaVar’s initial comment that the shoplifting was “no big deal.” They can separate themselves from LaVar’s attempt to capitalize on the incident when he loudly refused to thank President Donald Trump for helping negotiate the players’ release.

The school’s compliance people don’t have to worry about LaVar risking the NCAA’s wrath by having LiAngelo attempt to peddle his brand’s shoes or apparel. Coach Steve Alford doesn’t have to fret about LaVar’s racially draped second-guessing of his roster, which LaVar did last year when he said of the Bruins, “Realistically you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow.”

And UCLA no longer has to answer to nutty quotes such as the ones LaVar offered Monday when discussing his son’s withdrawal from school.

Even though the three freshmen admitted to shoplifting from three different stores in an upscale mall in Hangzhou during the Bruins’ trip to China, and even though they might have faced a jail sentence if they were not able to leave China, LaVar thinks UCLA mistreated his son.

“Waste,” LaVar said. “I’m not going to let them determine his future.”

What’s being wasted, of course, is a first-class education for a young man whose father is unwilling to allow him to accept consequences for his actions and receive some real-world schooling.

“I’m taking him and I’m gone,” 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.”

His boy is lucky he was allowed to leave China, period. He would be lucky if UCLA only suspended him for a season. He could have used this winter as his redshirt season. He could have shown up at next fall’s first practice older and wiser.

Instead, LaVar has cast him adrift in a sea of LaVar’s ego, where LiAngelo will join youngest son LaMelo, a high school junior and star recruit who was pulled out of Chino Hills High this year to concentrate on basketball and sell more shoes.

For those keeping score, LaVar’s celebrated Big Baller Brand is now attempting to move merchandise on the backs of one kid who quit high school, another who quit college, and a struggling NBA rookie.

In the rare event that he will actually be eligible, LaMelo is reportedly still planning to attend UCLA as the final member of that once-celebrated trio of Ball brother commitments.

Here’s guessing UCLA won’t be leaving the lights on.

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