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US, Lithuania grouped

MADRID -- The defending champion United States was grouped with European champ Lithuania for next year's men's basketball tournament at the Athens Olympics.

The two countries are joined in Group B by Angola, Australia, Greece, and Puerto Rico. Serbia-Montenegro, the 2002 world champion, and Argentina are in Group A with New Zealand, Italy, Spain, and China.

The draw for the 12-nation field, announced yesterday, was designed so neither group had three teams from one continent. The US and Serbia-Montenegro were kept apart.

The United States survived a last-second miss by Lithuania to reach the final at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. An NBA-led US team defeated France, 85-75, for the gold medal.

"It'll be a great experience to play Lithuania again after the game we had down in Sydney in the semifinal when we were very fortunate to beat them," said Sean Ford, director of the US men's Olympic program.

Former Lithuanian star and NBA player Sarunas Marciulionis said he expected the US to win Group B and hoped his country would at least finish second.

"The big battle will be to see who finishes fourth in Group A because they will almost certainly have to face the Americans," said the 1988 Seoul gold medalist.

Besides host Greece, the teams qualified from continental championships.

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