U.S. men's hoops to face familiar foe

Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2004

ATHENS, Greece - The last time the United States and Puerto Rico met in a basketball game that meant something, a shoving match broke out and fans in San Juan threw drinks and debris onto the court.

The episode happened last summer in a semifinal match at the Tournament of the Americas, one of five games between the teams in the past year.

"People got upset, and probably rightfully so, and it escalated," recalled Allen Iverson, one of three holdovers from the U.S. team that qualified for the Athens Games on that steamy night nearly a year ago in Puerto Rico.

The teams will play again tonight in one of six opening-round games on the first day of competition in men's basketball. The best game of the day, though, could be Serbia-Montenegro vs. Argentina in a rematch of the gold medal game at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis.

The other games are Angola-Lithuania, Italy-New Zealand, China-Spain and Greece-Australia.

Puerto Rico and the United States played an exhibition game last month in Jacksonville, Fla., the U.S. team winning 96-71 despite the suspensions of Iverson, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire for arriving late to a team meeting.

America is 5-0 against Puerto Rico in Olympic history, their last match a 115-77 victory by the 1992 Dream Team. At the 2002 World Championships, the U.S. team's 84-74 victory over Puerto Rico was its only win in a span of four games.

"We'll face the U.S. like any other team," said 41-year-old Puerto Rico center Jose "Piculin" Ortiz, who was drafted by the Utah Jazz the same year they chose Karl Malone.

A joke making its way around Athens is that Ortiz is so old, he's the only returning athlete from the last time Athens hosted the games in 1896. But Ortiz can still play, as evidenced by his triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the third-place game against Canada at last summer's Tournament of the Americas as Puerto Rico earned an Olympic berth.

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