OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A little piece of “the Big Dance” belongs to the Kansas City metro.
The ongoing NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament enters the Sweet 16 on Thursday. While most of Johnson County, Kansas, will cheer for the Jayhawks or the Wildcats, fans at one Johnson County high school have another rooting interest.
“The dream is still alive!”
The TV play-by-play announcer’s voice still echoes from Saturday night’s thrilling finish, as Loyola-Chicago, an 11-seed in the tournament’s tempestuous South Region, pulled off one of many upsets this year’s championships have witnessed.
Clayton Custer, who hails from Blue Valley Northwest High School, helped the Ramblers to a 63-62 win over the Volunteers.
Custer, a junior point guard for Loyola, hit a leaning jumpshot with only three seconds remaining in the game. His high-arching shot bounced on the rim and high off the backboard in Dallas, Texas, before rolling into the basket.
Heavily-favored Tennessee was unable to score at their end of the court, running out the clock and giving Loyola the victory.
Flabbergasted Loyola fans are calling his shot “the Bounce.” Their men’s basketball program hasn’t advanced this far in the tournament since winning the 1963 National Championship.
“I have to give the glory to God on that one,” Custer, breathless from the postgame pandemonium, said during a televised interview. “That’s just all the years of hard work coming together.”
Custer and his Rambler teammate, Ben Richardson, both got their start at Overland Trail Elementary School. They’ve been teammates since they were third-graders and continued on to Blue Valley Northwest High, where they led the Huskies to back-to-back state championships in 2013 and 2014. In their time at the metro high school, their teams totaled a record of 94-6.
“(Custer) has put in the work. Ben’s put in the work to be great,” Ed Fritz, the Huskies coach for 16 seasons, said Monday.
Fritz told reporters he set out driving for Dallas, expecting to see only one game. He didn’t even take a change of clothing or toiletries with him.
When Loyola advanced, Fritz had to purchase clothes and a hotel room to remain in Texas. Fritz can be seen in the videotape from Saturday’s game hugging Custer during the postgame celebration.
“Somebody asked me right after the game if I’d ever seen Clayton hit a shot like that, and I said, ‘Yeah, about a hundred times,'” Fritz said with a grin. “He’s done it his whole life. He’s done it his whole career.”
Fritz was also present when the two Blue Valley Northwest graduates signed their college letters of intent three years ago. Custer, who had won the coveted DiRenna Award as Kansas City’s top high school player, was headed for Iowa State. Richardson, on the other hand, had his heart set on Loyola.
Custer spent one year playing for then-Cyclones Coach Fred Hoiberg before transferring to Loyola-Chicago.
Fritz also spent time coaching both boys as elementary-schoolers.
“I’ve been part of their life, and they’ve been part of my life for a long time,” Fritz said.
Now, as the tournament progresses, the Custer and Richardson families have been traveling along with the Ramblers.
Photos shared by both families show parents and siblings posing with each player just moments after winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in late February.
Galen Custer, Clayton’s father, told FOX4’s Sean McDowell his family is leaving Wednesday for the South Regionals in Atlanta.
“It’s well worth it,” David Richardson, Ben’s father, told FOX4.
Richardson said the Loyola-Chicago players realize they’re still heavy underdogs since they’re paired against Nevada this Thursday. However, the two former Huskies and their teammates are determined to provide more thrills, like the memorable shot Custer sank versus the Volunteers.
“My wife had her head buried in her hands, and said, ‘What just happened?’ I had to tell her what happened,” Richardson said. “I had to get up and get some air after that game was over.”
A little anxiety is a small price for families living for tournament thrills.
Custer and Richardson aren’t the only Blue Valley Northwest alumni still dancing. Their former teammate, Mason Schoen, is a senior with Kansas State. The Wildcats are due to meet eight-time NCAA Champion Kentucky on Thursday in Atlanta.