First, he was simply a Loyola Rambler. Then, he was the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. He also was a professional basketball player and now he’s a businessman. Former Loyola men’s basketball player Clayton Custer has officially ended his basketball-playing days after being bought out of his contract at WKS Śląsk Wrocław.
It’s something the 24-year-old said he didn’t expect. When Custer first got to Poland, he said he felt like he was playing well. He started the first five preseason games, and he was putting up decent statistics. His presence on the court changed when Śląsk Wrocław signed 30-year-old Polish point guard Kamil Łączyński.
“I didn’t really think anything of it,” Custer said. “I thought I’d been playing well. So, I thought maybe they signed a guy to be my backup.”
Custer said while at practice the next day, he decided to look into the new signee. He said the younger Polish players on the team was excited for Łączyński, and it seemed he was a bigger deal than Custer originally thought. So, when he got home that night, he took to the internet.
While the name isn’t familiar in the United States, Łączyński is a famous basketball player in Poland. He’s been a member of the Polish National Team and won the Polska Liga Koszykówki (PLK) — The Polish Basketball League — title in 2018 with his former team. He was named the PLK Finals MVP after averaging 10.8 points and 4.8 assists over the six games in the series.
“Once we signed him, everything kind of flipped for me,” Custer said. “He showed up a couple days before the sixth preseason game. [He] didn’t really know the plays or anything yet. And they started him the first game. It kind of surprised me a little bit. And then from then on, I was just playing his backup minutes.”
Five games into the regular season, Śląsk Wrocław’s general manager reached out to Custer’s agent to begin the buyout process. His contract was for the entire season, but Custer said the Polish team didn’t see the need to have an American on its roster who wasn’t starting and playing very few minutes. They paid him for the remainder of his contract — ending Custer’s journey abroad nine months early.
WKS Śląsk Wrocław did not immediately respond for comment.
Dec. 7, Custer reappeared on the Loyola bench. Instead of wearing a uniform, he was in a suit. He said he was trying to figure out his next steps. Loyola head coach Porter Moser let him sit on the bench and see if coaching was his future.
“I’m here for him,” Moser said. “He’s a life-long friend. He put a lot of thought into this. I 100 percent didn’t push him either way. I was showing him a path here, and he had a path in [business].”
On the other side, Custer was looking into potential business endeavors to put his Master’s of Business Administration to use. He said he leaned on mentor Corey McQuade, a managing partner at Northwestern Mutual in Chicago he met through an internship program in 2017.
Custer said it was the “perfect” way to transition. He said Moser allowed him the freedom of being able to do whatever he needed to do. He was learning what coaching was about, but also attending interviews and having lunch meetings.
Despite getting an official coaching offer from Loyola, he decided to decline due to the unknowns that come with coaching. As a self-defined “family man,” Custer said he didn’t like the idea of having to uproot a future family for a new coaching job.
So, he headed into the business world. He said his trust in McQuade led him to his new job in financial planning and wealth management with Northwestern Mutual.
“The guy has a servant’s heart,” McQuade said. “We share the same values. [At Loyola] the big thing is men and women for others. I just think he encapsulates that to a T. And that’s what my life is about and our firm at Northwestern Mutual is really about serving and leading.”
This new chapter in Custer’s life doesn’t signal the end of basketball all together — just his playing career. He said he’ll always want to be around basketball, which is why making the decision to step away was so difficult for him.
He said he’s searching for different ways to be involved in the sport outside of playing or committing to collegiate coaching. His first step was reaching out to various Amatuer Athletic Union (AAU) teams — a multi-sport organization dedicated to the promotion and development of amatuer sports — in the city, but he hasn’t committed to anything.
“I love the game so much,” Custer said. “It’s given me so much as well. I’m definitely gonna try to stay around the game. I’ll be connected with Loyola basketball forever. I’ll just always be an ambassador for the program.”
And if Custer can’t find a way to stay close to the sport, Moser said Custer is always welcome to sit on the bench during weekend games because he’s “part of the family.”