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Q&A with Loyola-Chicago point guard Clayton Custer

Clayton Custer

Clayton Custer

With apologies to UMBC, Loyola-Chicago was the Cinderella story of last March. The Ramblers made an improbable run to the Final Four, and they return their core — led by senior point guard and leading scorer Clayton Custer.

The Overland Park, Kan., native tells Athlon Sports why he transferred to Loyola, how his life changed after last year’s magical run and what newly minted national celebrity Sister Jean is really like.

What’s your best memory from last season?
The thing I’ll remember the most is celebrating when we won the Elite Eight, just being out there on the court with the team. There’s just emotions that you feel in these moments that you can’t replicate. Those are the biggest highs to be able to feel. … Just being able to experience that type of feeling will be something that I’ll never forget.

What were the emotions like in the immediate aftermath of losing in the Final Four? 
It’s just like a balloon gets popped. We had been so up for so long during that month of March. We were so happy, everything was going well for us and the high kept getting higher. We kept winning, everything was going our way for so long and we had built so much confidence. Then we were playing well through the first 30 minutes of the Michigan game, and we started making mistakes we usually don’t make. It was just a very deflating feeling, especially for the seniors. We didn’t want it to end. We wanted to compete for the national championship, so it was just a lot of sadness and a little bit of anger for me just because we started turning the ball over. It was just a game we thought we probably should have closed out.

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What’s the biggest shot of your career? The game winner in the second round of the NCAA Tournament vs. Tennessee?
Yeah, not even close. 

How has life changed since the Final Four run?
It’s cool now because people on campus are wearing basketball shirts. A year ago, nobody was doing that. It’s cool that the excitement is back and that basketball is a bigger deal.

Who’s the coolest person you met as a result of your tournament run?
Before the Final Four we had the sitdown with Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson. For me it was cool meeting Nantz just because I had always loved watching The Masters. Ben [Richardson, Custer’s former teammate in high school and at Loyola] got a selfie video of [Nantz] saying, “The Masters, a tradition unlike any other,” so that was cool. And then, we got to go to the Cubs game, which was cool for us. We got to meet Ben Zobrist, and he was on the Royals in 2015 when they won the World Series.

Why did you transfer from Iowa State?
If I could go back, I don’t think I would have committed as early. I love Coach [Fred] Hoiberg and all the guys there, but committing to a school who had a point guard one year older than me in Monte Morris was probably not a smart decision. It just ended up not working out, having him a year older, so I probably wouldn’t have played a lot until my junior or senior year. Hoiberg leaving had nothing to do with it. I left before he left for the Bulls. I’m glad I was there. It was a great experience for me, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me.

Why did you choose Loyola when you transferred?
Once I got my release, they talked to Ben, and he said they should at least try. They were the first to call me. I talked to all the coaches, and it was between Loyola and Creighton. I think Ben pushed it over the edge. He had a huge part, just having somebody that you’re best friends with and you could play with, and we’ve always won.

How many dunks have you had in your college career?
Zero. Not even a chance. I can barely dunk. I have to throw it up to myself, so that’s something I’m working on this summer, trying to be a little more explosive, so maybe next year.

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So you haven’t even tried?
No. I wouldn’t imagine what [coach] Porter [Moser] would say. I would hope he would almost laugh at it, but I don’t think it would go well. He may even put me on the bench.

What’s your favorite place to play in the league, other than your home gym, and why?
I think I like playing at Bradley the most now that Wichita State is out of the conference. They are physical, and it gets kinda rowdy in there, and the fans are talking to us, and we’re kinda going back and forth with them. So that’s definitely one of my favorite places to play in the league.

Who is the best player you’ve guarded in your college career?
Landry Shamet [formerly of Wichita State] is pretty good. He’s one of the ones that sticks out for me. He was a redshirt freshman when we played against them. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a great player. He knows how to play, and I’m excited to see what he does this year in the NBA.

Who is the toughest defender you’ve faced?
Jordan Bone [of Tennessee]. He was tough in the NCAA Tournament. He was picking me up full court, all game. They punched us in the mouth in the beginning of the game. I was tired right from the beginning of the game, and he guarded me pretty tough.

Who is the coach in the league you’d want to play for other than Porter Moser?
I would probably say Ben Jacobson [of Northern Iowa]. I like his demeanor on the sideline. He’s a really good coach, and he’s won a lot of games. I like the way his teams play.

What sport would you be playing if it weren’t basketball?
Baseball for sure. Growing up, I traveled playing both sports. My baseball coaches would tell me to stop playing basketball, and my basketball coaches would tell me to stop playing baseball. I played baseball in high school. I was always a shortstop who hit from the left side. I wasn’t a power hitter. I was a lead-off hitter and would get on base and steal second. I played baseball my freshman year [in high school], and that’s when I decided I wanted to play basketball in college, so I didn’t play baseball my sophomore year — which I regret to this day. I had to go in and tell my coach that I wasn’t playing. Then I committed to play basketball at Iowa State the beginning of my junior year, so at that point, I went back and played baseball for my last two years. I hadn’t thought about getting recruited anymore, but Kansas State offered me a scholarship for baseball. I was also recruited by Arkansas, Wichita State and some others. I actually took an unofficial visit to Kansas State while I was committed to Iowa State, and nobody knew. 

What was it like to watch Sister Jean blow up?
I knew once we made it far, she would be a story because she’s 98 and all that, but I had no idea it would blow up that much. We thought it was cool that she was getting all the attention. Before games there would be ads that had each team’s mascots. Ours would always be Sister Jean. We didn’t expect that.

Sister Jean

What’s she like?
She really is around us quite a bit. We got to share some time with her, since her office is right in the student center. She’s just the type of person you walk into a room and you feel a warmth around her. She really is such an amazing person — she’s strong and she’s a special person and it was cool to see her blow up like that.

Who is your favorite NBA player?
I’m a LeBron guy. My favorite player of all time is Steve Nash just because I want to do what he did on the court. I think there are guys you think you can emulate, and Nash is one of them.

What kind of music do you like?
I’ll listen to different music in different seasons. During the basketball season I’ll listen to hip hop and rap. I feel like it gets me going for games. In the summer, I listen to that and country.

You and Ben did internships last summer. What was that like?
I did my internship last summer at Morgan Stanley. It was the wealth management sector in Chicago, and it was a great experience. I learned a lot, but I’m hoping to play basketball for as long as possible.

What did you actually do at Morgan Stanley?
We cold-called all day. We were basically the people who call you, and we sell something. We were those people that would call and you don’t know how we got your number. It’s either “Sorry, not interested” or they don’t answer at all. I was that guy for the summer. It was hard. … I would tell myself that there’s not going to be a lot of success at this internship, so I’m going to use this as a mental drill to stay positive as much as possible, to get back up on the horse and keep going after being rejected.

What was your percentage rate?
We were making like 500 calls a day, and we were supposed to get addresses so we could send people information. I would probably get like five or six every day, so it was rough. It taught me how to handle failure.