Of course Anthony Vallejo knew about The Streak. He wasn’t overly concerned about it when he enrolled at St. Louis College of Pharmacy this past fall, but, during his recruitment, the 6-foot-5 guard did ask head coach Danny Brown why the team hadn’t won a game since November 2014.
While Brown didn’t have a concise answer—failure has many fathers—at least he had a believable vision. “He had just become the coach,” Vallejo recalls, “and wanted to rebuild the team into something that could be good, so I thought why not try and start this program back up?”
A two-point loss to Central Christian College in the 2017-18 season opener only seemed to validate Vallejo’s thinking. “This is going to be a good year,” he told himself.
Well, the season’s over. And after the wear of a year of 5:30 a.m. practices, coupled with hours spent balancing schoolwork and a job at the campus Chick-fil-A, Vallejo now admits he never considered the possibility that The Streak might be bigger than any of them. “I didn’t care about The Streak,” he says, “because I didn’t expect to come here and lose 26 games.”
They lost all 26 games this season. They’ve lost their last 100.
Such is the life of a freshman on one of the nation’s lowliest college basketball teams. St. Louis College of Pharmacy has endured several brutal losing streaks since the NAIA program’s debut in 1993—they once didn’t win a conference game for nine seasons—but nothing as severe as the squad’s current record of ineptitude.
Last month, the College of Pharmacy Eutectics dropped their final regular season game to William Woods University, 94-60, marking the team’s 100th straight loss—the longest current losing streak at either the NCAA or NAIA level. (The school’s website lists 99 consecutive losses, but according to the NAIA, the Eutectics have indeed dropped their last 100 contests—that the school’s ignominious record is marred by a typo has a certain charm to it.)
(The eutectic method is the process of mixing two solids to form a liquid, and the team is represented by the team’s mascot, Mortarmer “Morty” McPestle, a creature in a pharmacist’s white coat. This is a school with a passion, and that passion’s not sports.)
It has been more than 1,200 days since the Eutectics last celebrated a victory—a three-point win over the Preachers of Concordia Seminary in November of 2014.
And yet, the team isn’t terrible. This is no Cal Tech or NJIT. Under Brown, the Eutectics aren’t guaranteed blowouts. “You can tell teams are beginning to scout us,” Brown claims. “Before, they just rolled up and started playing.”
Seven of the team’s 26 losses have been by single digits, and one of those games even went to overtime—the first time the College of Pharmacy had forced an extra period in its four seasons as a member of the American Midwest Conference. It was also the toughest defeat of the season: Three seconds remained in a tie game between the Eutectics and Lindenwood University-Belleville until freshman Ilias Kalogeropoulos connected on a deep three, giving STLCOP the lead (and promptly transforming the Eutectic bench into a frenzied mob of yellow).
Opposing guard Martavian Payne, who once suited up for Missouri, ended that celebration abruptly on the very next play, banking in a fallaway three-pointer in the final half-second.
“After we went up three, everyone was excited,” says Jordan Anderson, the team’s leading scorer (19.9 ppg). “But once we went into overtime, we lost our momentum.”
The very next game, STLCOP lost on a Lincoln Christian University three-pointer with under three seconds left, and missed a tying look at the buzzer.
The locker room was tense after those games. “We were angry,” Anderson says. “We got a taste of winning and then that got taken away.”
Brown, who averaged about five points per game at Saint Louis playing under the late Rick Majerus, didn’t have any plans of ever becoming a college coach. A herniated disc in his neck ended a playing career overseas, and though he trained high school prospects in the Saint Louis area, he was focused on his full-time job as a diversity recruiter for one of the city’s non-profits. The only reason he even knew about STLCOP’s opening was that his wife attended the college. “My lady is the only person I know who wakes up each morning and wants to be a pharmacist,” he says, admiringly.
So when Brown was hired in early 2017, taking over the STLCOP program midseason (one former player says previous coach Brian Swift “got tired of all the hoopla about The Streak”), his immediate task was twofold. First was win a game; second was establish a competitive program. He says school president John Pieper didn’t have any illusions that Brown would mold the squad into a group that contends even semi-regularly for a conference title. “The expectation isn’t to immediately win 30 games,” says Brown.
Rather, Brown’s goal was to field a competitive-enough team that also excelled within the high-stress academic environs of the oldest pharmacy college west of the Mississippi River. “I want the team to be more than just a study break for the players,” explains Brown, who says that during his initial practices, he often didn’t have enough bodies to even run a drill. It had been the previous coach’s custom to allow players to skip practices when they had exams coming up. “Between players having jobs as pharmacy techs and needing to finish school assignments, only three guys would show up.”
His introduction to STLCOP basketball was an eye-opener, a two-month span of 14 losses (10 of them by more than 40 points) that included two forfeits after in-game injuries that left the Eutectics with only four players. “It was weird,” Brown says. “The kids I inherited had never won a basketball game and, on top of the other stuff they had going on as students, had put basketball on the backburner. They were just clocking in.”
Clayton Earhart, a guard on the last Eutectic team to register a win, agrees.
“If you wanted to play, you could play. There was no recruiting.” says Earhart, who now works retail pharma at Walmart. He describes the program’s philosophy as, “As long as you were having fun, that’s a win.”
Earhart, who led STLCOP with 21 points in that fateful 2014 victory, says the school often used to schedule winnable games to boost morale at the beginning of the season, against the likes of seminaries and chiropractic colleges. But all that changed when the Eutectics moved from the NAIA’s Division II to Division I. There were no more gimme games. St. Louis College of Pharmacy found itself the gimme for opponents.
At nights and on weekends, Brown and his two volunteer assistants scoured the internet looking for players to bolster the incoming class. While the College of Pharmacy isn’t unique in its recruiting challenges—the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences typically manages at least a .500 record in the Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference—it’s not as if high-level talent, the type that can immediately elevate a program (or, at the very least, end a 100-game losing streak), can be easily convinced to join a team known more for its mascot than its hoops pedigree.
But Brown had a few things going for him, including arguably one of the more striking recruiting pitches in the nation. “I can guarantee recruits a guaranteed $125,000 starting salary post-graduation,” he says. “The only other coaches whom offer that type of promise are John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski, so basically, I’m the Calipari of the NAIA.”
And the college was set to open a $50 million recreation and student center, a 190,000-plus square feet facility that included practice courts and a new basketball gym, which effectively replaced the Pillbox, the affectionately named 350-person gym that the squad had used since its inception.
The new coach pressed STLCOP’s administration to offer some financial incentives: a $200 sneaker budget per player (Damian Lillard’s Dame 3s for game days, and either Paul George Nikes or Air Jordans for practice) and partial scholarships that, when coupled with academic aid, help offset tuition costs—a first for the program, and one that afforded Brown and his staff the opportunity to find players that might never have considered the College of Pharmacy. “We need needles in a haystack,” he says. “It’s all about finding kids that are high-level basketball players who are also interested in going into pharmacy or the field of healthcare provisions.”
One of those players is Jordan Anderson, a 6-foot-1 guard by way of junior college. Anderson wanted to transition to a four-year college with an engineering program, but as he wasn’t ready yet for life as a full-time student, and none of the schools recruiting him were engineering-forward, Anderson began to reconsider his options. That’s when Brown found him. “Coach Brown kept texting me and calling me. This was a big leap for me, but I figured if I went this route, I had options. I could attend medical school or pursue a pharma career.” Or anesthesiology, which is Anderson’s major.
“I thought there was no way we get Jordan,” says Brown of a player who had only previously played power forward or wing. “We’re asking him to be our James Harden, and play point guard, which is a whole new position for him.”
“But he was considering segueing into the healthcare profession, so becoming a Eutectic was a good avenue for him.”
The team’s offensive fulcrum, Anderson’s play has been significant in helping keep STLCOP within winning distance even as the losses kept piling up. With a roster full of newcomers, Brown has largely simplified the College of Pharmacy’s offense—essentially 1-4 with a ball screen for Anderson to help create a two-on-one each offensive possession—but the infusion of talent like Anderson and Vallejo, the team’s third leading scorer (11.3 ppg), signals the effort to end The Streak is less Sisyphean that ever before.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Vallejo says. “I just want to get better each game so when the time comes, we know how to win.”
When we spoke, Anderson was confident the losing wouldn’t carry into next season (“We all know it’s there and obviously our goal is to break it and end it,”) but with the 101st loss looming on next season’s horizon, he acknowledged both the mental and athletic limitations that continue to hamstring the team. Which is why Brown hopes to add several more bodies to the 2018-19 roster, “certain types of kids that have big bodies, can run, jump, and defend positions, and also are interested in the medical profession.”
That’s obviously a highly specific sort of recruit, but Brown is hopeful, telling me, “We now have interest in the program, which is not how it was in the past, when every kid who wanted to play basketball, regardless of skill, could join the team.”
So while The Streak is still very much a part of the Eutectics’ everyday existence, Anderson remains optimistic. “It’s those one or two mistakes we still commit that are the difference,” he explains. “We’re fighting, don’t get me wrong.
“But once we put it all together...”
Matt Giles is a writer for Longreads, and he also freelances for several other publications, including the New York Times, New York magazine, the Washington Post, Bleacher Report, and FiveThirtyEight.