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The 2016-17 Loyola Chicago backcourt was 10 years in the making

Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson have been friends and teammates since third grade.

NCAA Basketball: Loyola-Chicago at Wichita State Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Ten years.

That’s how long Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson played basketball together before they graduated high school in March 2014 with their second state championship.

Custer and Richardson, friends and teammates since third grade, led Blue Valley Northwest High School in Kansas to back-to-back state titles. They were best friends off the court and on, where the pair of guards played alongside each other.

While they would both continue their basketball careers in college, they were headed in different directions. Custer headed to Iowa State to play for Fred Hoiberg, and Richardson to Loyola Chicago to play for Porter Moser. After countless hours of carpooling to and from school, practice, and games, their 10-year run was coming to an end.

Little did they know, three years later, they would be back in Charles Koch Arena, where they won that second state championship, only this time they would be playing Wichita State in a Missouri Valley Conference game. As teammates.

Custer and Richardson have been going to school together since first grade. Richardson moved to Custer’s neighborhood when they were in third grade, and that’s when they became friends and started playing basketball together.

They both dabbled in football in middle school, but make no mistake: they were basketball players.

As their friendship grew, so did their love for the game. Their back-to-back state championships in 2013 and 2014 were the first state titles in Blue Valley Northwest High School history.

When it came time to think about the future, they both knew they wanted to play at the highest level, but no school offered both of them.

“Earlier on when I hadn’t gotten any offers and I think Clay was getting recruited by [Kansas] State, I probably considered walking on at [Kansas] State,” Richardson said. “But that would be the closest thing.”

Custer committed to Iowa State early, and soon after, Richardson chose Loyola-Chicago. Although they weren’t at the same school, they stayed close.

Freshman year at Iowa State was a rough one for Custer. He played just 5.8 minutes per game, averaging just over a point. By season’s end, he had decided to transfer.

Moser knew of Custer through Richardson and the high school AAU circuit. When he saw that Custer was transferring, he realized he had an opportunity. With Milton Doyle’s graduation looming, Moser knew he was going to need a new point guard eventually, so he started the process of trying to bring Custer to Chicago.

“I think the idea of playing in the Missouri Valley together really intrigued them,” Moser said. “And it couldn’t have worked out better for us.”

As part of the NCAA transfer process, Custer was allowed to visit six schools. When he was making plans for his transfer, Richardson invited him to spend the weekend at Loyola.

“Even when I was at Iowa State, we were really good friends so we always talked during both of our freshman years,” Custer said. “Then when I decided to transfer, Ben [just said] ‘come visit Loyola.’”

Although he didn’t know what to expect when he came, Custer took Moser and Richardson up on the offer. He scheduled an official visit. He arrived, saw campus, met the team, and he was sold.

“I didn’t really know what to expect coming to Loyola,” Custer said. “I came here and met all of the guys on the team and it just kind of felt right. I didn’t end up taking my other visits.”

Custer enrolled at Loyola in the summer of 2015 and sat out the 2015-16 season per NCAA transfer rules. Although it was tough to sit and watch the Ramblers play from the bench, he learned a lot.

“It was tough, but I knew what I was getting into when I did it,” he said. “I think it was good to get a feel for how we play and the system.”

Custer practiced with the team and watched every game from the sideline. While on the bench, he helped Richardson and players see things on the court and gave them suggestions mid-game. In return, Richardson helped him learn the plays and get acquainted with the team.

“I talked to Ben. I saw things on the court I could help him with,” Custer said. “[Ben] helps me with plays and everything because he’s been here for longer.”

Naturally, Richardson and Custer were ecstatic for the 2016-17 season.

“Me and Ben play off of each other really well,” Custer said. “We get excited for each other on the court when one of us makes a play, but its not even just me and Ben, its become a whole team thing.”

Not only did they help each other on the court this year, they helped the whole team.

“I love it, I love this whole team, they know where each other is on the court,” Moser said. “They hear each other’s voices on the court. [They have] energy passing the ball, but they both have winning intangibles, both are unselfish, both put the team first every day.”

1,063 days after leaving Charles Koch Arena with their second State Championship trophy, Custer and Richardson were back in the same place. This time, they weren’t playing a State Championship game for Blue Valley Northwest. This time, they were playing a conference game against Wichita State, as the stars of the Loyola Chicago Ramblers.

They were living the dreams they had set for themselves when they played at Koch Arena for State Championships three years earlier. Just like old times.