Trash Can Man: UH’s own red Jack-in-the-Box
Luis Lemus waited crouching down in the dark with nothing but the soft glow of light streaming from his iPhone to illuminate the red interior of his domain.
That was his cue.
He sprang upward like a Jack-in-the-Box, hands stretched skyward to toss away the black lid and reveal the bustling red world that awaited outside his small enclosure.
The home crowd roared as he wildly waved his arms about like a madman, bouncing and screaming before quickly retreating to his hiding place.
Though many may not know his name or recognize his face, Lemus is the unforgettable Trash Can Man that graced courtside with an array of hilarious free throw distractions and unmatched enthusiasm.
When the 2019 men’s basketball season started, the second-year architecture major had no idea he would go from cheering in the student section to squatting courtside in a large red trash can.
“I was not expecting it at all,” Lemus said. “I’ve always been a fan, but now being part of the experience of the fan, I don’t know, I didn’t expect it.”
How he got here
Before he was the red-painted basketball fanatic, Lemus was approached by UH’s Assistant Athletics Director for Marketing and Event Presentation Robert Boudwin. He was asked to breathe life into this new character.
Lemus has been a big fan of basketball since middle school, and as soon as he left his hometown of El Paso for UH his freshman year, he could be seen watching most, if not all, of the home basketball games with his peers.
He found UH basketball fame when he adopted the online persona of Discount Rob Gray after he discovered an uncanny resemblance to the former starting guard.
This persona is also how Boudwin heard of Lemus and his unwavering support of the team.
“He was at every game, so I got to meet him and see how passionate he was, and I kind of threw the idea out to him, and he was like ‘I’m in,’” Boudwin said. “He didn’t even question it. There wasn’t even a hesitation.”
Where the idea originated
Boudwin, who joined the UH athletics administration in July of last year, is a retired NBA Rockets team member and is none other than the creator and 21-year actor behind the Rockets’ mascot, Clutch the Bear.
“That’s a lot of years that I’ve probably seen Robert dancing around in an outfit, I just never realized it,” Lemus said. “It’s obviously a great opportunity for UH to have him come in and involve the students more.”
The idea behind Trash Can Man was brought over from Boudwin’s time with the Rockets. Instead of a red trash can, it was green and used for St. Patrick’s Day games or Reduce, Reuse, Recycle awareness games.
“They were our green nights,” Boudwin said. “We had green giveaways and things like that. We used to have a green big trash can like that, but obviously a green one was meant for recyclables.”
Now, instead of promoting recycling, the bright red trash can boosts fans’ bolstering support for their UH Cougars.
“I thought people, students and alumni and fans at large, thought it was hysterical,” Boudwin said. “There was a lot of pointing and laughing, and I could see people’s eyes anticipating it.”
Game day prep
To prepare for the game, Lemus watches from the stands and anxiously waits for Boudwin to signal it’s time.
From there, Boudwin and Lemus walk down the tunnel to a locker room where Lemus suits up. Suit up actually means he strips down to his red shorts, coats his entire body with red paint and hops into a red trash can where he waits to be wheeled courtside.
“All the credit and the kudos goes to Luis,” Boudwin said. “He’s the one who has to get there and smear himself with paint and wash it all off and act a fool in the moment and, by the way, sit in a pitch-black dark trash can.”
Sometime in the second half, the trash can is brought into sight, and Lemus waits inside for the can’s handler to give the signal that it’s time for the red maniac to make his appearance.
Unwilling to miss even a minute, he streams the game on his phone, cementing himself as a true superfan.
“It sucks in a way because I can’t see the game,” Lemus said while laughing. “That’s one of my biggest issues, I can’t see the game inside of that trash can.”
Of the many moments remembered in his time as Trash Can Man last season, one stands out for both Lemus and Boudwin.
While positioned courtside during an ESPN airing of College GameDay, Lemus whipped out a sign that read “LADIES CALL ME” and had the phone number to UH’s ticket office written just below.
“That was my favorite moment,” Boudwin said. “It wasn’t just the game stuff, which was great. It wasn’t the coverage on ESPN. The fan reaction was great, but my favorite was when they refer to Trash Can Man live on air, the four College GameDay announcers, and then he pops out with that sign on cue and the announcers just went with it.”
Although the idea for Trash Can Man originated from Boudwin, he said without proper execution, an idea amounts to nothing. Boudwin credits all the success of UH’s new gimmick to Lemus.
“I feel great for him. I mean, a kid at his age to be able to take the spotlight and get that kind of attention makes me feel filled with pride for him,” Boudwin said. “He deserves every minute of it.”
With the new season soon approaching, Trash Can Man’s courtside appearance is not guaranteed, but according to Boudwin, the athletics department is still in the works of approving it for the 2019-20 season.
They are also working to be more “gender equitable,” Boudwin said, and plan on including female students, or Trash Can Women, in the future.
Boudwin also said students interested in submitting ideas or participating in any of the game day shenanigans, like being the Trash Can Man, are welcome to contact him at any time through his email, [email protected].
With roughly three years left until he completes his degree, Lemus, who thinks this could last as a long-standing Houston tradition, is always available for the job.
“As long as I’m here, I’d be willing to do it,” Lemus said. “I hope it continues on or carries on somehow. We just need to find ways to keep it innovating and interesting.”