WASHINGTON — President Trump complained Sunday that the father of one of the three college basketball players who were arrested in China for shoplifting had played down his role in winning their release, and that he, therefore, should not have interceded with China’s president.

“I should have left them in jail!” the president said in a Twitter post.

LaVar Ball, father of Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball and UCLA player LiAngelo Ball, watches an NBA summer league game last July in Las Vegas. Associated Press/John Locher

Trump drew a quick backlash on social media. Many expressed incredulity that a sitting U.S. president would publicly regret having come to the aid of American citizens being held by an authoritarian government.

The release of the three players by Chinese authorities represented one of the few tangible achievements from Trump’s 12-day visit to five countries in Asia this month.

But the quick resolution of what could have been a drawn-out diplomatic incident swiftly took on sour overtones as the president prodded the three UCLA athletes, who returned to Los Angeles last week, to publicly thank him.

After they publicly expressed thanks, Trump appeared to consider the matter closed, telling them on Twitter that he hoped they would have a “great life” and be careful of their actions in the future.

But Sunday, Trump appeared irate that the father of one of the players, LiAngelo Ball, had played down his involvement in an ESPN interview.

“Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out,” LaVar Ball told the sports channel Friday when asked about Trump claiming credit for raising the arrests with Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met last week in Beijing.

Trump said in his post that the players had been saved from “years in jail.”

In the ESPN interview, the elder Ball seemed to question the seriousness of the incident, saying “they try to make a big deal out of nothing sometimes.”

LiAngelo Ball and fellow freshmen Jalen Hill and Cody Riley, are on indefinite suspension from the Bruins basketball team.

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