BVNWnews

From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

A winding road brought Clayton Custer to Loyola Chicago. Now, an improbable tournament run has brought the Ramblers to the Final Four in San Antonio.

Custer+talks+to+Rosalyn+Gold-Anwude+of+TNT+after+his+game-winner+against+Tennessee+in+the+second+round.+%22It%E2%80%99s+fun+to+hit+a+game-winner+no+matter+what%2C%22+Custer+told+BVNWnews%2C+%22but+it+doesn%E2%80%99t+come+along+that+often.+In+high+school+a+lot+of+the+time+we+were+winning+by+too+much+to+ever+have+to+shoot+a+game-winner%2C+so+I+mean+I+don%E2%80%99t+think+I%E2%80%99ve+probably+made+more+than+four+or+five+game-winners+in+my+career.%22
Custer talks to Rosalyn Gold-Anwude of TNT after his game-winner against Tennessee in the second round.

Custer talks to Rosalyn Gold-Anwude of TNT after his game-winner against Tennessee in the second round. "It’s fun to hit a game-winner no matter what," Custer told BVNWnews, "but it doesn’t come along that often. In high school a lot of the time we were winning by too much to ever have to shoot a game-winner, so I mean I don’t think I’ve probably made more than four or five game-winners in my career."

Photo courtesy Steve Woltmann/ Loyola Athletics

Photo courtesy Steve Woltmann/ Loyola Athletics

Custer talks to Rosalyn Gold-Anwude of TNT after his game-winner against Tennessee in the second round. "It’s fun to hit a game-winner no matter what," Custer told BVNWnews, "but it doesn’t come along that often. In high school a lot of the time we were winning by too much to ever have to shoot a game-winner, so I mean I don’t think I’ve probably made more than four or five game-winners in my career."

Gabe Swartz, Editor-in-chief

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






It wasn’t an unusual sight to find Clayton Custer in the gym during the early hours of the morning, or the latest hours of the night. Everybody has their own Clayton Custer story, there are plenty of them.

For head coach Ed Fritz, it was that time where Custer and Loyola teammate Ben Richardson, Vince Fritz and Kyle Harrison played full-court 2-on-2 in the gym at Blue Valley Northwest on New Year’s Eve during the fifth grade. For Custer’s father Galen, it’s the countless times he would take his youngest son to the gym at Lifetime Fitness at 5 a.m. to get shots up. For his mother Terri, she recalls rebounding her sons shots after games, on the rare occasion the Huskies had lost earlier in the night.

“We just went where he told us to,” Galen said.

On one particular occasion, Custer’s Iowa State Cyclones- he committed during his junior year at BVNW- were playing KU at Allen Fieldhouse. That night, the Cyclones led the Jayhawks 79-76 with eight seconds remaining in regulation. What happened next forced Custer to the gym for another late night shot session.

Kansas’ redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore caught the ball, rose up and fired a 3-pointer. With one second remaining on the game clock, McLemore’s shot banked off the glass and through the net, forcing overtime. The Jayhawks went on to win 97-89, and as the final buzzer sounded Custer rose from his seat and headed for the gym, at nearly 11 p.m. on a Monday night.

“He was so disgusted,” Galen said.

When Custer arrived in Ames, Iowa his freshman year, things didn’t turn out as he envisioned them. He found himself behind Monté Morris, an eventual First Team All-Big 12 selection, and only appeared in 12 games, averaging 5.8 minutes and 1.1 points per game.

“You go from always playing, you go from always being one of the better players on your team growing up,” Custer said, “and then you are a freshman in the Big 12, things just don’t shape out and you’re not getting any playing time. And it’s tough. For an 18-year-old kid that’s used to playing the whole game to then have to sit on the bench, it was definitely a low point in my life.”

Photo courtesy Iowa State Athletics
During his freshman year at Iowa State, Custer averaged 5.8 minutes and 1.1 points per game.

“He was doing everything right, and working hard in practice and it was just really frustrating,” Galen said.

Custer’s high school teammate Kyle Harrison said he remembers texting with Custer throughout their freshman year. Harrison said he and friends could sense the frustration that came with not getting any playing time. After Iowa State was upset by the University of Alabama Birmingham in the first round of the tournament in 2015, Custer and his parents had their first discussion about transferring.

“I sat down with my parents when the season was over and we just had a conversation and talked about what the best decision would be for me going forward,” Custer said. “We all kind of agreed that I should move on and try to go somewhere else where I could play the way I wanted to play.”

Photo courtesy Iowa State Athletics
After the Cyclones won the Big 12 Conference Tournament and went 25-9 in the 2014-15 season, Custer opted to transfer.

Custer put his name out and waited for coaches to contact him. He heard back from schools such as Creighton, Missouri, Xavier, UMass, Boise State, Wichita State and Loyola Chicago.

After Loyola Chicago head coach Porter Moser visited Custer in Ames, and Galen and Terri in Overland Park, the family scheduled a visit. When he first heard that Custer was heading to Rogers Park for a visit, Harrison said he didn’t believe it was a legitimate end destination for the former Iowa State guard.

“I knew that he said he was going to visit Ben [Richardson],” Harrison said, “but at the time [players] got like five visits, so I was like ‘Oh, he’s probably just using it to go and see Ben,’ and I honestly didn’t think that he was considering it that seriously.”

Little did Harrison know, Custer was seriously considering joining his high school teammate with the Ramblers.

“I think my friends just thought I was kind of taking the visit just to spend time with Ben, and just have a good weekend with him, but I was serious about it,” Custer said. “I wanted to see what Loyola had in store, and obviously Ben had a huge part in me deciding to come here but I believed in Coach Moser and what his vision was, and I mean it just seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

I was like ‘Oh, he’s probably just using it to go and see Ben’ and I honestly didn’t think that he was considering it that seriously.”

— Kyle Harrison

The visit to Rogers Park ended up sealing the deal for Custer as it was the only visit he would make during his transfer process. For the first time since his playing days at Blue Valley Northwest, he was going to be reunited with his high school buddy.

BVNWnews.com archive photo
When the Ramblers take on Michigan Saturday night in San Antonio, Custer (3) and Richardson (4) will be the first BVNW alumni to ever play in the Final Four.

Experts are calling this team Cinderella, but, as Custer says, “We’ve been a good team all year.”

“We’ve won 32 games now,” Custer said. “I mean, when people call us a Cinderella I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it because we’ve been a good team all year.”

In Chicago, a city with over 10 million people and countless professional sports teams, Custer said the fan support is incredible. For the first time in two decades–or since Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls–there are championship basketball hopes in the Windy City again.

“It’s remarkable how the Loyola fanbase has exploded,” Galen said. “I mean it was pretty quiet around those games earlier this year, and as they won, and as it looked like they were going to win the [Missouri Valley Conference] toward the end, the gym got full. And then when they got into the tournament, Chicago has just been like, you can imagine Chicago’s a big deal, and when you’re a big deal in Chicago, you’re a big deal!”

Custer said it’s hard to choose the most remarkable part of this four-game stretch, largely because there have been so many special moments. As he points out, none of this happens without senior Donté Ingram’s game-winning 3-pointer in the first round against Miami, Fla. None of this happens without Custer’s game-winner on a “friendly little bounce” as he puts it, against Tennessee in the second round. Or redshirt junior Marques Townes’ 3-pointer against Nevada in the Sweet 16. Or Richardson’s career-high 23 points in the Elite Eight win against Kansas State.

Photo courtesy Steve Woltmann/ Loyola Athletics
Ben Richardson was named the South Regional’s Most Outstanding Player after his 23-point performance in the Ramblers’ 78-62 Elite Eight win over Kansas State.

That’s what makes this team special, he says.

“It goes to show that we have a bunch of selfless guys on our team,” Custer said. “We don’t care who scores. We don’t care who gets the glory, but we’re more worried about trying to win games. And I mean it’s hard for teams to match up with us because we have so many weapons.”

Custer said stylistically, there are plenty of similarities between Loyola Chicago’s offensive sets and what he and Richardson ran during their time as Huskies. The unselfishness that was on display during Custer’s time as a Husky is something Harrison said he sees still when watching his former teammates with Loyola.

“In high school, you could probably have given the ball to Clay and he could go score nine times out of 10,” Harrison says. “But, he didn’t want to do that. He wanted to work it and get somebody a wide-open shot or get one of us points.”

That unselfishness Harrison admires in Custer stems from a coaching habit of Fritz which began at the elementary level. Rather than praising the basket-scorer, Fritz would make it a point to recognize whoever made the pass that set up the score.

“If they liked praise they knew that I liked them passing the ball more than shooting it,” Fritz said. “It kind of worked out good.”

In Custer and Richardson’s time at Northwest they lost just six games. One of them was to Gardner Edgerton and Bubba Starling. One of them was to Apple Valley (Minn.) and future Duke star Tyus Jones. Two of them were to Blue Valley North, and two of them were at the hands of Perry Ellis and Wichita Heights in the state championship game during their freshman and sophomore years.

“Really, if we don’t see Perry Ellis, there’s a chance Clay has four state championships,” Harrison said.

Photo courtesy Steve Woltmann/ Loyola Athletics
With the help of Custer and Richardson, Loyola Chicago finds itself back in the Final Four for the first time since 1963.

Now, the duo that went 94-6 during their time at BVNW has brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four for the first time since 1963. Richardson and Custer serve as inspiration for kids in the Kansas City area like junior guard Christian Braun, who has a scholarship offer from Loyola Chicago. Braun said he’s watched every game of the Ramblers’ tournament run, his family records the games and loves their style of play.

“It’s really cool,” Braun said, “just because we’ve been coached by the same coach. I hope that one day I could be like them and play that well on that stage.”

Ten years ago to the week, Custer and Richardson were replaying Mario Chalmers’ miracle 3-pointer which helped Kansas win the national championship. The two of them were in sixth grade when they would go out into their driveways and reenact the iconic shot. Now, they’re in San Antonio for the Final Four, with a potential opportunity to play the Jayhawks in the national championship game Monday night.

Kansas head coach Bill Self said at his weekly press conference that Custer was talented enough to put on a Jayhawk uniform. But, as was the case with Monté Morris at Iowa State, Custer would have been stuck behind eventual National Player of the Year Frank Mason III, and First Team All-American Devonté Graham.

“[Custer] was good enough to play at Kansas,” Self told reporters at his weekly press conference Monday. “But the timing wasn’t right. You know, so much of recruiting is timing and he ends up signing at Iowa State, but we were loaded at the guard spot. I mean you got Frank and Devonté, and so that would’ve been a tough one probably for him to come in and do what he’s doing right now if he’d had this role.”

Growing up in Overland Park, Custer says he was a KU fan. When he entered high school and the recruiting cycle began, he says he strayed away from his Jayhawk fandom. Now, the BVNW alums could have a chance to complete a Kansas sweep, defeating both the Wildcats and Jayhawks.

Photo courtesy Steve Woltmann/ Loyola Athletics
Custer talks to Rosalyn Gold-Anwude of TNT after his game-winner against Tennessee in the second round. “It’s fun to hit a game-winner no matter what,” Custer told BVNWnews, “but it doesn’t come along that often. In high school a lot of the time we were winning by too much to ever have to shoot a game-winner, so I mean I don’t think I’ve probably made more than four or five game-winners in my career.”

“I think it’s just been cool how everything’s lined up,” Custer said. “It was cool that we got to play K-State in the Elite Eight obviously with just being from Kansas, and now being in the Final Four with Kansas… it’s just that’s the amazing part. It would be cool to play both of the Kansas schools in the NCAA tournament, and it would be special to play Kansas in the national championship.”

With a Final Four berth now under his belt, asking Custer whether his transfer has now been justified in his eyes is a little like asking an 8-year-old if they want more candy on Halloween.

“Over the last four years, if I had stayed at Iowa State they haven’t gone to the Final Four,” Custer said. “So not a lot of people get to experience going to the Final Four, and now I’m getting to do it here at Loyola which obviously a lot of people might not have thought was gonna be possible, but here we are.”

The 11th-seeded Ramblers are set to face off with No. 3 Michigan in the first national semifinal Saturday night.

“It’s going to be a dream come true,” Custer said. “It’s going to be surreal. Right before the tip-off it’s definitely going to be a lot of butterflies. A lot of energy. I mean my heart’s gonna be bumping. It’s going to be a really cool experience, and it’ll definitely be a feeling that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”

Custer, Richardson and Loyola Chicago enter the matchup with the Wolverines as 5.5 point underdogs, but that doesn’t stop Ramblers fans from believing.

Before she headed to San Antonio to watch her son play with his childhood friend for the last time, Terri knows exactly what she’s most looking forward to.

“A couple wins.”

BVNWnews could not reach Ben Richardson for comment.

Leave a Comment

We love hearing what our readers think! Let us know your opinions.




Navigate Left
  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Alumni

    Three BVNW grads featured in South Region Elite Eight

  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Alumni

    2014 graduates win conference awards at Loyola Chicago

  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Alumni

    2012 BVNW graduate Garrett Fugate signs with CFL team

  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Alumni

    Sporting KC signs 2014 graduate Zach Wright

  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Alumni

    Walk-on Wildcat

  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Alumni

    Former math teacher Megan Geenens fills new interventionist position

  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Alumni

    Alumni write and direct new TBS show “Wrecked”

  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Alumni

    Transformation Tuesday

  • Alumni

    Success After BVNW

  • From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four

    Season Previews

    Winter sports preview

Navigate Right
The official student media of Blue Valley Northwest High School
From Ames to the Alamo: How Clayton Custer reunited with his best friend and brought Loyola Chicago to the Final Four