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Blue Devils Dominate Blue Bears

Opening exhibition shows vast skills and potential.

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 04: Justise Winslow #12 of the Duke Blue Devils drives against Robert Flint #15, David Williams #12 and Shawn Jackson #3 of the Livingstone College Blue Bears during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 4, 2014 in Du
DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 04: Justise Winslow #12 of the Duke Blue Devils drives against Robert Flint #15, David Williams #12 and Shawn Jackson #3 of the Livingstone College Blue Bears during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 4, 2014 in Du
Grant Halverson

Correction - we originally said Billy Packer watched Earl Monroe at Winston-Salem State. Actually it was Cleo Hill.

You could see it. Not all the time, not yet, but you could get a glimpse Tuesday of what this team could become.

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In a word, a Duke sort of word: special.

People have raved about Jahlil Okafor, and you could see why. Not all the time - he was tentative and probably held back some - but you could see.

He had an absolutely gorgeous spin move in the first half that we're not sure any Duke big man before him could have done. Laettner? He would have scored - Laettner was a cold-blooded assassin on the basketball court - but he couldn't have done it. Elton Brand would've just run over you. Mike Gminski wasn't mobile enough to do it.

That one move was enough to sell us, though as we said, he seemed tentative, like know...freshman.

Still, he drew a lot of defensive attention, and that made life easier for everyone else.

Matt Jones cleaned up from outside - he shot 5-8 from three point range.

Freshman Grayson Allen showed some range too, hitting 3-7 from three point range. We'll come back to him in a few.

Okafor's talent is pretty obvious, and his size is imposing. But the guy who really caught our eye was Justise Winslow.

Let's get this out of the way: you can watch him for five minutes and realize he's an NBA level player. The biggest question he'll have is size: by that standard, he's kind of a tweener.

That's not the case in college. Winslow, physically, is just way ahead of the curve. He's built like a 24-year-old rather than a guy who was in high school a few months ago.

All that aside, the guy has game. He shoots well, though it's not his strong point. He rebounds. He can bring the ball upcourt.

But what we loved was his passing. And as a matter of fact, this team passes as well as any we've seen in a long time.

Winslow, though...he was sold as a glue guy, but he's more than that. He's just a damn good player and a really good athlete. That combo doesn't happen all the time. He has the potential to be extraordinary.

Who does he remind us of? Good question. A bit like Brian Davis, but he's more talented and much bigger.

We have to go back a bit and you have to stretch your mind a bit to see it, but he reminds us somewhat of Kenny Dennard.

Like Dennard, he came as a fully formed player, a guy who could just play. And like Dennard, he has the potential to add a versatile, sweet passing forward to the lineup.

He reminds us a bit too of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. We feel like we've seen him before, but we can't put a finger on who it is. Clyde Drexler? Not as high flying but okay.

Trust us on this: whoever he reminds you of, the guy is really good.


He's really, really good.

Tyus Jones is also a solid point guard. He's not freakishly fast but he knows where to put the ball. He's especially good on the break, but he can move the ball around in the half-court (as can so many other guys on this team).

Another side effect of Okafor's presence is that he frees up Amile Jefferson to play a more natural game. He's not being forced into the post like he was as a freshman and sophomore.

Okafor, both Joneses, Winslow and Jefferson started for Duke, which meant that Quinn Cook Rasheed Sulaimon, Marshall Plumlee, Semi Ojeleye and Grayson Allen came off the bench (it's only a matter of time until we write Grayson Marshall. Please let us know).

When that unit came in, the early fluidity broke down, but not severely, and the defense was really good.

In fact, the defense was good throughout. Livingstone had trouble doing pretty much anything. The Blue Bears had 21 turnovers and shot just 24% in the first half. The defense let up in the second and Livingstone started hitting (52.8%  for the second half), but when you're down 50 or 60, it really doesn't matter.

To be clear, Livingstone was not a great challenge. Anyone from Duke who might have been somehow traded would have immediately been Livingstone's best player.

Plus the Blue Bears don't have anywhere near Duke's resources  to train a team.

Duke has every advantage and Livingstone, an HBCU, has limited resources and must focus more on basics than Duke.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing; look at what happened to UNC.

And things have changed over time, too. Billy Packer still speaks with awe over leaving Wake Forest and going across town to see Cleo Hill play for Winston-Salem State. The very end of American segregation coincided with a flowering of basketball at HBCU powers like Winston-Salem State. NC Central produced Sam Jones. Earl Manigault played at the Laurinburg Institute and very briefly at Johnson C. Smith.

There was a time when basketball at HBCUs was cutting edge. No one mourns the demise of segregation, but it also meant the end of HBCU basketball as surely as it meant the end of the Negro Leagues.

A few years after Packer's trips across town and UNC signed Charlie Scott. A few years after that, David Thompson, Phil Ford and John Lucas took the ACC to a stratospheric level.

No more. Among other things, Duke's win over Livingstone shows how vast the gulf has grown.