LOS ANGELES — The three UCLA basketball players questioned over shoplifting allegations in Hangzhou, China, could face a lengthy legal limbo depending on the actions of authorities handling their case, an expert in Chinese law said Wednesday.

Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill remained in a hotel in Hangzhou to await further developments in the legal process while their teammates traveled to Shanghai for the team’s opener Friday against Georgia Tech, according to a person close to the situation who was not authorized to publicly disclose that information.

The three won’t play against the Yellow Jackets and could miss additional games. Chinese authorities have up to 37 days before deciding whether to obtain official approval for an arrest, said Margaret K. Lewis, a Seton Hall professor of law specializing in the Chinese legal system.

Liangelo Ball

That doesn’t mean authorities would necessarily take that long in a case that reportedly involves merchandise taken from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team hotel.

“This timeline could go very quickly,” Lewis said. “We could have someone say tomorrow, ‘No, the evidence isn’t clear,’ or it could take a long time.”

Lewis said an arrest would trigger an investigation that could last up to two additional months before prosecutors decided whether to bring charges.

“If formal charges are brought against the basketball players … the conviction rate in China is over 99 percent,” Lewis said. “What’s important in this early stage is what charges are brought because once they are brought it becomes an issue of what the sentence will be, not whether they will be guilty.”

A court case likely would be heard before a three-judge panel, Lewis said. Possible punishment for a conviction would be based on multiple factors, including the value of the merchandise, the level of cooperation from the players and whether they appeared repentant.

“This is Louis Vuitton; it’s not a pack of chewing gum,” Lewis said, “so we can assume this is an object of some value. If we’re dealing with some sunglasses, it’s possible you could have some imprisonment of some sort but there’s other punishments that could be possible including probation. It doesn’t have to be prison; there’s no requirement of that.”

LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo Ball, reportedly canceled a planned meeting with the media over legal concerns regarding LiAngelo.