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For Duke, it's not just about Jahlil Okafor

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Until about the 10-minute mark of the second half Saturday, the only guy in an Okafor jersey who earned any notice was Jahlil Okafor's uncle, Emeka. His timeout dance performance from his seat behind the Duke bench was caught on the big screen, and it earned universal love from everyone in attendance at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

The big guy himself, the one averaging more than 17 points per game for Duke, was a non-factor, with four points until about 10 minutes remained.

It didn’t matter. Duke still coasted to a 70-59 win over Stanford.

This version of the Blue Devils might have yet another soon-to-be top NBA Draft pick, but they are by no means the same team they were a year ago. Last season, Duke struggled if Jabari Parker didn’t score in bunches. If he wasn’t a one-man band, Parker was lead singer, lead guitar and drummer.

Okafor doesn’t have the same burden as a freshman.

There is simply more -- more talent, more depth, more experience.

“We have a really talented group of players," junior forward Amile Jefferson said. “We’ve got 10 guys who are capable of playing big games, really big games.’’

Four of those 10 guys finished in double figures against Stanford, led by Quinn Cook's 18.

That’s what makes these Blue Devils a much more realistic threat. There’s no way Duke should have been sent packing by Mercer a year ago in its NCAA tournament opener. It was a bad loss by a good team, but that team always had a "yeah, but" quality to it.

Not this one.

It is way too early to tab favorites for the national championship, but there is no question that already a pack of teams have shown that, at least right now, they’re a step ahead. Put Duke solidly in that pack, along with Kentucky, Wisconsin, Arizona and Gonzaga.

The Blue Devils have played five games in eight days in three states and emerged not only unscathed but also barely tested.

Michigan State threatened some in Indianapolis, and Stanford once cut the lead to eight, but otherwise, this has been a breeze.

Mike Krzyzewski, admittedly worried about the wear and tear, changed things up before the Stanford game. There was simply walking -- no shooting -- at the walkthrough. Duke arrived at the arena a little later to conserve energy.

“We’re looking forward to a day off tomorrow," Krzyzewski said.

Maybe the workload was partially responsible for the Devils’ shooting against the Cardinal. They weren’t dreadful, but they weren’t great -- 39 percent from the floor. Before, that might have doomed a Duke team; this time it didn’t really matter.

What Duke lacked in accuracy, it made up for in defense (Stanford shot 36 percent) and, even more, efficiency. The Blue Devils pitched 15 assists on 22 made buckets -- evidence not only of the options available but also the lack of drama that supposedly was going to doom this team.

“We could care less who scores," said Cook, who was supposed to be the most threatened because of the addition of star freshman point guard Tyus Jones. "We’re not focused on that at all. We know everybody is capable."

The big guy, of course, has a say-so in all this, even when his stat line doesn’t necessarily show it.

A 7-foot stud tends to command a little attention, and Okafor drew a double-team from the Cardinal’s zone defense almost all night. That’s nothing new, really. Okafor said he faced double- and occasionally triple-teams in high school, but this isn’t exactly high school.

Yet Okafor handled the extra attention with ease. Part of the reason he didn’t score so much was because he didn’t try. He took 10 shots in the entire game and was content to work the boards (12 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass), pass out of the low post and find his open teammates. Okafor was credited with just one assist, but he had plenty of hockey assists -- passing out to the guy who passed to the scorer.

“He’s our facilitator," Jefferson said. “I’m amazed at how poised he played. He didn’t force anything. He can really see the big picture."

That view isn’t just of his dancing uncle. It includes a wide-open world for Duke, too.