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Olympic Men's Basketball Competition Begins Sunday - 2004-08-14


The 12-team men's tournament is divided into two groups of six teams for preliminary round-robin play. Each nation plays five group games, with the top four advancing to the single elimination quarterfinals.

Group-A is China, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Argentina, and Serbia and Montenegro. The United States is in Group-B with Angola, Australia, Lithuania, Puerto Rico and host Greece.

With a number of top NBA stars missing from the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team -- like league Most Valuable Player Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd -- there is no assurance of a gold medal this time.

But the team has some fresh faces, like league rookie of the year LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. When the U.S. players met with the media here, he was asked if he could compare his first NBA game to the attention he's drawing here at the Olympics.

"My NBA rookie debut, it was crazy," he said. "There was so much media there. I couldn't even stretch before the game against Sacramento [his opening game]. I think the game Sunday and my NBA debut are probably going neck to neck, because my NBA rookie game was crazy."

The first Olympic game for LeBron James and the U.S. basketball team is Sunday night against Puerto Rico.

James was asked if he thinks the Olympics mean the same to him as athletes from less popular sports who don't get much attention.

"Every Olympian is here for one reason and I think everybody should know that," he said. "I don't know if there's one Olympian here saying they want to win the bronze. No. Everyone wants to win the gold, so we pretty much set ourselves up the best way we can in our respective sports and take care of it like that."

And U.S. head coach Larry Brown said his players know defending the gold medal won't be easy, but they must understand each of their roles to achieve their goal.

"I'm not taking one thing away from these 12, because they had to sacrifice a lot to be here and I respect that," he added. "But all I'm saying is if we truly want to be the best and do it the right way you have to truly have a team out there."

Coach Brown and his players know that anything less than a USA basketball gold medal will be considered a huge disappointment.

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