Two years ago, Loyola’s men’s basketball team received a new addition: a transfer from Iowa State University named Clayton Custer. Originally from Overland Park, Kansas, Custer has been playing basketball since he was a child. After sitting out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA residency requirements, he’s made an impressive impact this season, including helping the Ramblers win the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular season championship and receiving MVC Player of the Year award himself.
Custer said transferring from a Big 12 school to playing in the MVC wasn’t too different because they’re both good conferences. He said he loves playing for Loyola.
“It was obviously a cool experience being at Iowa State for that year,” Custer said. “Once conference started, I didn’t have too much of a role on the team other than trying to make guys better in practice. The transition to the Valley has been awesome. The Valley is a really good basketball conference.”
Custer has had a successful season: He’s averaged 14.2 ppg, going 54.4 percent in the paint and 46.2 percent from beyond the arc — which makes him the second best three-point shooter in the MVC. When he injured his ankle in the Dec. 6 game against University of Florida, the team took a hit, according to head coach Porter Moser.
“I just can’t say enough about Custer,” Moser said. “His numbers show it themselves. When he was out, we were 2-3 in those five games and we are 23-2 when he plays. That alone shows you a lot.”
Not only was it a loss in numbers, but senior forward Aundre Jackson said it was a loss of leadership and comfort.
“I was hurt. I didn’t want to lose [Custer],” Jackson said. “He’s one of our best players, so with him on the court it makes everything easier, but you have to trust in the process. You just have to stay with it and keep on grinding.”
Custer’s numbers speak volumes, and Moser said he’s a valuable player on every level and a key member of the team’s success.
“The passing. His field goal percentage. He’s really efficient, he’s a winner and I think that’s a big thing,” Moser said. “I just can’t say enough about him on what he means to us on a lot of different fronts.”
Jackson said Custer is his favorite person to play with because he can affect teams in all kinds of ways.
“He does so much,” Jackson said. “He’s the point guard, so he starts the domino and you have to respect his jump shot. You have to respect his drive. You just have to respect him so much because he opens up things.”
Jackson also said Custer is a good leader as Custer sees the floor from a different perspective and uses that to lead the team.
“He’s a threat so you have to respect him. You have to actually scout him, focus in on him,” Jackson said. “With that it opens up everybody else. His leadership helps us, too, because when we are messing up in practice, when we don’t know the plays, he yells to get everyone into position. I think his leadership, combined with his skills, makes him a great player.”
Since his season was so successful, Custer has received the MVC Player of the Year award. Students at games chant “MVP” when he’s on the court, but Custer said he tries to focus on his team rather than on his own success.
“The only thing that is going through my head is just worrying about winning the next game,” Custer said. “I try to keep thoughts of that type out of my head just because we have too much going for us as a team. I love playing with this team and we are all selfless guys. I’m excited for what we can do here in the next few weeks.”
Although he tries not to focus on his individual success, he recognizes it’s part of the game. He said he makes it a point to put more time and effort into the team compared to his own success.
“It’s obviously an honor to have,” Custer said. “Its really cool to have the fans here saying stuff like [MVP] and that’s part of what is fun about being a college athlete. The biggest thing for me is trying to do whatever it takes for our team to win.”
After beating Southern Illinois University Feb. 21, the Ramblers clinched the No. 1 seed for the MVC. It’s the first time since 1985 Loyola has claimed a regular season conference title. They had been sharing the regular season title until the game against SIU.
“[That] was something I’ll never forget. It was such a cool experience,” Custer said. “To win that game on the road the way we did. I think that shows that we’re staying focused. Even though we had a share we didn’t want to have the ‘co-’ in front of it so I think it shows a lot about our character that we came out and kind of made a statement in that game.”
Custer and the Ramblers are scheduled to play March 2 in the quarterfinals of the MVC Tournament in St. Louis.