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[The Backstory]

Rojos to Rebellion: Experiencing the evolution of UNLV’s Thomas & Mack student section

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The UNLV student section unveils the giant Khem Kong prop as Utah State center Jarred Shaw shoots a free throw during their game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Photo: Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV vs. Utah State | Thomas & Mack Center | January 22, 2013

UNLV's Carlos Lopez Sosa, Jelan Kendrick and Roscoe Smith fight Utah State forward Ben Clifford for a rebound during their game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 62-42.

UNLV's Carlos Lopez Sosa, Jelan Kendrick and Roscoe Smith fight Utah State forward Ben Clifford for a rebound during their game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 62-42.

When I started covering UNLV basketball 15 years ago, there were usually a few students in the stands sporting fuzzy red wigs who referred to themselves as “Rojos.” If memory serves, they disappeared around the time Bill Bayno did, leaving an energy void in the student section that matched years of Rebel basketball mediocrity. Fast forward to a few years ago when a handful of die-hard fans began showing up in face paint, which snowballed into a more active student section and one-upsmanship with large cutout heads. Those heads begat 3D heads and a giant, articulated version of then-UNLV forward Mike Moser, dubbed Mozilla. When Moser’s transfer to Oregon forced Mozilla’s retirement, its creator, former UNLV student Sean Clauretie, devised the largest prop yet, Khem Kong. The 20-foot-wide puppet, based on forward Khem Birch, was unveiled during the Rebels’ game against Utah State last week. And while Khem Kong wasn’t enough of a distraction to keep Utah from making its free throws, UNLV’s defense helped the Rebels to a 62-42 victory.

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