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Marques Bolden picks Duke over Kentucky

Marques Bolden, a five-star center in the class of 2016, announce on Thursday he will sign with Duke. He picked the Blue Devils over Kentucky and TCU.

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Many college basketball fans may have already shifted their focus toward the class of 2017, but one player who should affect the national title race this season revealed his college decision on Thursday. Marques Bolden, the top center in the class of 2016, announced in a ceremony at his high school that he will sign with Duke.

He chose the Blue Devils over finalists Kentucky and TCU after reportedly arriving to the announcement in a purple Horned Frogs T-shirt.

We’ve waited a long, long time for Bolden’s decision. There was speculation it would come in time for the early signing period in November, and after that passed he talked about deciding in December or January. Instead, he waited until after the conclusion of his senior season at DeSoto (Tex.) High.

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Bolden released a list of eight schools (Alabama, Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, TCU, Wake Forest) last August, and in March a report from the Dallas Morning News said he had narrowed it down to three schools (the Blue Devils, Wildcats and Horned Frogs). However, Duke and Kentucky were considered the clear favorites entering Thursday.

Less than two weeks before Bolden unveiled his choice, Kentucky coach John Calipari seemingly attempted to undermine Duke’s recruiting pitch in a blog post on his website. Calipari also posted videos of himself exercising late last month that were interpreted in some circles as a possible attempt to sway prospects considering Kentucky.

Whether or not those tactics influenced Bolden, he ultimately wasn't sold on the Wildcats.

Who were the nation's top prospects this spring?

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The 6'10", 254-pound Bolden is renowned for his rebounding and post-scoring ability. He averaged 23.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game this season, according to the Morning News. The latest version of the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, a composite ranking that incorporates several services, pegs Bolden No. 21 in the class of 2016.

“Bolden has become one of the nation's elite centers,” Bolden’s analysis notes. “He's strong, athletic, scores with his back to the basket and strikes an imposing figure on defense as well. He's both productive and has the room to expand his game even more, placing him ahead of he frontcourt field.”

Bolden participated in both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Nike Hoop Summit last month.

Bolden’s decision cements Duke’s status as the preseason favorite to win the national championship. ranked the Blue Devils No. 1 in its way-too-early top 25 in April because of their combination of returning talent and a strong incoming recruiting class. Bolden makes the latter even stronger.

In addition to Bolden, Duke will bring in four prospects ranked in the top 10 nationally by—power forwards Harry Giles and Javin DeLaurier, point guard Frank Jackson and small forward Jayson Tatum—plus Australian wing Jack White. With Bolden in the fold, Duke finishes this recruiting cycle with the top class in the country.

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That group alone would make the Blue Devils a top ACC contender. But they also bring back three skilled perimeter players in Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard, plus big man Amile Jefferson. Far from a rebuilding year after losing the potential No. 1 pick in the draft, Brandon Ingram, Duke should be even better in 2016–17 than the Sweet 16 that took the court this year.

Bolden will join Giles, Jefferson and sophomore Chase Jeter to form one of the nation's top frontcourts.

The on-court implications of Bolden’s decision are clear, but another source of intrigue is its impact on the Blue Devils and Wildcats’ intense competition for top-notch talent across the country. Duke won this battle, but you can expect at least a few more between the two programs in the next recruiting cycle