There is always a lot of talk about unrealistic expectations at UCLA. Someone always pops his head in to say, "YOU GUYS CAN'T ACTUALLY EXPECT THE BRUINS TO WIN A NATIONAL TITLE EVERY YEAR!" to which someone with half a brain replies, "of course not, but we expect the Bruins to be in contention year in, year out like the other top programs."
And that's the point. Nobody is going to win a national title every year and nobody expects UCLA to dominate like they did under Coach. The expectation at UCLA is that the team be at or near the top of the Pac-12 each year and be a legitimate national title contender and before anyone tells you differently, that is possible in the modern day.
It's easy to say that in the age of one and dones, it's too difficult to compete for a national title each year because once you have a good team the players leave and the program has to start over again. That it takes luck getting guys to come back or that a program has to sell its soul to one and dones or whatever other narrative that is easy and lazy to toss out. The point of it all is that everyone has to lower expectations.
But nobody has to lower their expectations and Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke are showing us why. The three preeminent programs in the country right now (and that's not up for discussion because there is not another program that matches those three in year in, year out success at this time) accounted for 10 of the 30 first round picks in this year's NBA Draft and yet they are all coming back as top 15 teams next year.
The Wildcats, Tar Heels and Blue Devils all lost a ton of talent that would theoretically cripple a program. Just consider, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, Austin Rivers, Kendall Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Terrence Jones, Miles Plumlee and Marquis Teague all left just three teams, but none take a major step back. They are still ranked third, 13th and 15th respectively. That is reloading.
And all three teams have built and sustained their programs in different ways. As everyone knows, Kentucky brings in one loaded recruiting class after another even if they are filled with one and dones and wins with young talent, even if they are inexperienced.
North Carolina has made a habit of bringing guys along and giving them spots as role players. Then when more experienced guys leaved for the pros they take over as the stars, as James Michael McAdoo, Dexter Strickland and more will do this year.
Duke takes a core of good, but not super elite recruits that stick around then add an elite freshman or two. Kyrie Irving did it two years ago, Austin Rivers did it last year and they hope Rasheed Sulalmon will do it this year.
Three different ways to build and sustain programs, all of them successful. Forget the people who like to say that one and done rule has made it impossible to be a consistent top 15 program anymore. Dismiss those who think there is one way to win. Ignore those who say a program just needs to get lucky or rebuild for two or three years after a successful run. The people who say things like that are simply lazy and want to draw broad strokes over a topic that is more complex than that.
It is difficult to do what Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke are doing. If it was easy then more teams would be able to do it, but they can't. It is something only the elite programs do and the expectation at UCLA is that the basketball program be among the elite. That doesn't mean winning a national title every year, but it does mean competing for one, as the elite programs are proving is very much possible.