LiAngelo Ball, UCLA and Georgia Tech bring college hoops' awful offseason to China

It only seems appropriate that, a mere few days before the 2017-18 college basketball season begins, perhaps the most scandal-plagued offseason in the history of the sport offers up two more doozies.

College basketball's had an embarrassing summer-into-fall, and Tuesday only offered more reason for shame and head-shaking. We'll keep it chronological. 

The first of the two bizarre stories to surface on Tuesday you likely ready about here, at CBS Sports, when my colleague, Gary Parrish, broke the story open about Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner and the former friend of Pastner's who's trying to derail his career. Ron Bell's personal revelation that Pastner wasn't treating him like a true friend sparked him to go public, admitting to extra benefits he provided to two currently suspended Georgia Tech players. Going off what's in Parrish's story, Pastner's going to keep his job -- but his reputation has been altered from what it was, say, 24 hours before that news coming to light. Undeniably. 

Then, another bombshell. A college hoops-colored plume cloud from the other side of the planet. ESPN first reported Tuesday afternoon that LiAngelo Ball and two other UCLA freshmen were arrested in China, allegedly for shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store that was located next to the UCLA team hotel. 

UCLA, as cosmic coincidence would have it, is set to play none other than Georgia Tech on Friday, on the first day of college basketball's season. College basketball's news cycle just got dominated by two unrelated programs based on opposite coasts, whose teams are currently on the other side of the world. College hoops' crooked habits have gone global, and it's no joking matter. We can put the Georgia Tech story to the side for the time being. Pastner will likely comment on it before the team leaves China, then is sure to be questioned extensively early next week, once he returns to Atlanta. 

But the UCLA story takes on broader impact and more urgent significance because of only one factor: LaVar Ball's kid got pinched. If this had been three anonymous UCLA players? It's a headline, but only a headline contained to the world of college basketball. With LaVar Ball in China now, a handful of media are sure to probe for more information, and a juicy quote, from the sports world's most outspoken dad. Is LiAngelo still detained? When will he be allowed to leave China? 

Those are questions that, as of now, no one has the answers to. Stealing should never happen, but for it to happen on foreign soil in a communist country -- it's a potentially difficult situation for Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill (the other two reportedly arrested).

CBS Sports reached out to UCLA on Tuesday evening, when it was just past 6 a.m. in China. Bruins coaches are being told they are not allowed to comment on the matter.  

Before CBS Sports contacted UCLA staffers, the school put out a two-sentence statement: "We are aware of a situation involving UCLA student-athletes in Hangzhou, China. The University is cooperating fully with local authorities on this matter, and we have no further comment at this time."

What's likely to happen -- even in the best-case scenario, meaning that the three players are let off by Chinese officials without any formal proceedings taking place -- is that Ball, Riley and Hill (all of whom are bit players and are not/were not expected to be immediately important to UCLA's rotation) will be benched for Friday's game. That trio, plus Georgia Tech's Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson, will all sit. 

Okogie and Jackson will continue to miss games indefinitely. Ball, Riley and Hill -- if allowed to travel back with UCLA -- could see their team-specific punishments extended once they return to precious American soil.

This has become an infamous offseason. There is no scandal too taboo, no wrongdoing too unthinkable, no mistake unable to snake its way through the cracks. From unprecedented FBI investigations, to the firing of a Hall of Fame coach in Louisville. From a wannabe booster turning heel on a coach with a squeaky-clean image, to the son of one of the most polarizing parents in sports history potentially endangering his well-being by getting caught trying to rob a high-end designer store in -- again -- China. 

College basketball could really use some good news. Mere regular season games won't offer all the antidotes. Programs connected to the FBI probe are still liable to suspend players whose eligibility can be called into question, and news of those indefinite suspensions should come as the week progresses. Domestically and abroad, college basketball has taken an unexpected but deserved battering. 

There's still so much to like about the sport, so much good in it, and this season's gonna get rolling and offer some welcomed distractions. But that does not detract, whatsoever, from UCLA's newfound disaster, along with Georgia Tech's inflamed NCAA situation, along with the FBI indictments that will be logged this week, along with whatever comes next in what's become a 23-ton ogre of an FBI case that college hoops will not shake off its back. It's never a good thing when the most interesting thing about your sport is what's happening when the games aren't being played.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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