Kansas University track and field throws coach Andy Kokhanovsky wasn’t surprised when the country’s No. 1 high school prospect in the Class of 2009 decommitted from UCLA last summer and signed with KU.
“I had a feeling it was going to happen. I’m exactly the same type (person) like him. I think it clicked with him from the first visit,” Kokhanovsky said of Jayhawk freshman discus/shot put sensation Mason Finley, Track and Field News’ 2009 Boys Prep Athlete of the Year.
The two who have differences in age (Kokhanovsky is 42; Finley 19) and upbringings (Andy hails from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, Pop. 1.04 million and Mason from Salida, Colo., Pop. 5,504) share one thing in common — their music.
“Our favorite singer is Ozzy Osbourne,” Kokhanovsky said.
“Ozzy’s the man,” Finley agreed.
The two held a joint interview session with the Journal-World last Wednesday, the same day the 6-foot-8, 375-pound Finley was tapped Big 12 male freshman of the year after winning his two events at the league outdoor meet and the shot put at indoor.
“I introduced him to Dio. That’s his favorite now,” Kokhanovsky said of heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio. “You know Dio passed away two days ago? It was a bad day for us.”
“It was tragic,” Finley said of Dio’s death from stomach cancer. “We were very upset. It’s too bad,” added Finley, who also listens to “hardcore Metallica” before he throws and “stuff like that.”
The two “old school” music buffs have another thing in common: love of high-level competition. Kokhanovsky was a collegiate standout at Abilene Christian (1998 grad) who competed in the 1996 Olympic Games.
Finley is the national high school record holder in the discus, who already is ranked fourth in KU history in that event (197-5) and fifth in the shot (63-21⁄4).
He is considered one of the favorites to win the discus at the upcoming regional meet today through Saturday in Austin, Texas. A top-12 (of 24) finish is needed to qualify for the NCAAs, June 9-12 in Eugene, Ore.
“I guess my goal is break all the records I can — to win the discus at the NCAA meet all four years. Out of college, I want to go to the Olympics and try to do my best there,” Finley said.
He’s already eyeing the 2012 Games in London, even though he’ll still be in college at that time.
He figures the sky is the limit thanks in large part to the tutoring of Kokhanovsky.
“We go really well together. The results kind of speak for themselves,” Finley said.
Coach K, who has in the past worked with Olympic javelin thrower Scott Russell and two-time NCAA weight-throw champ Egor Agafonov, relishes the opportunity to coach Finley, who said he first chose UCLA mainly because of the weather, but decommitted after the Bruins’ track coach was suddenly let go last June.
“Basically like Brandon Rush ... Michael Jordan,” Kokhanovsky said, asked what type of blue-chipper he was recruiting in Finley. “I saw him the first time at the Junior Olympics when he was a sophomore. From that moment, you could tell he was going to be a good one.”
How’d he sell him?
“Kansas,” Kokhanovsky said. “He used to live in Kansas City (where his dad, Jared, won state in the discus at Wyandotte High and went on to star at Wyoming).
“He knew of Al Oerter, visited, and eventually he is here.”
Finley likes everything about KU, even the sometimes stormy spring weather.
“You saw what happened to guys that have perfect weather every time. They didn’t perform that well,” Finley said. He beat several standouts from Texas in the rain-plagued Big 12 meet in Columbia, Mo. “I’d rather practice at a place where the weather can be bad, then go to a meet and dominate rather than it be perfect weather and not do so well.”
Finley’s winning throws came on his first of six attempts in both events in soggy Columbia.
“Expectations are really high, but he did a great job,” Kokhanovsky said. “He has everything you expect from a thrower. He is fast enough, tall enough. He is the real deal.”
Finley promises to be even quicker in the ring in the future.
The large man who wants to be an actor — “I like Jack Black a lot. I think he’s hilarious. Chris Farley is super-funny. Those two are my favorites,” he said — is hoping to shed up to 60 pounds.
“I’ve gained like 40 pounds since I got here. You go to training table ... and start eating a lot,” said Finley, who has appeared in some film productions of teammate/ fellow film major Iain Trimble of Overbrook.
“I got really strong. I’ve cut down lately (on food intake).”
He isn’t about to balloon out of control and sidetrack a track career he has pursued for such a long time.
Finley competed in basketball, wrestling, football and track during grade and high school, but quit playing football midway through his senior year at Buena Vista High after hurting his wrist.
“I didn’t want to risk it,” he said.
Dad Jared, who still holds a top-10 discus mark in the state of Kansas and threw 198-feet at the University of Wyoming, handed his son his first homemade discus in fifth grade.
Jared coached his son at club events in the high school offseason.
“My dad liked it, so we had a bond when I was young,” Finley said of the disc.
Mason’s dad, mom Lisa and twin 13-year-old twin sisters Matia and Rebecca watched Finley win both the discus and shot at the 2010 Kansas Relays. He’s hoping they’ll be able to travel to Oregon for his first NCAA Outdoor, if in fact he’s able to qualify. He ranks second in the region in the shot and third in the discus.
“He has a big heart. He wants to do it. That’s the key,” Kokhanovsky said, noting Finley’s teammate Brian Bishop also has a great shot at qualifying for nationals in the discus.
“There’s a lot of work to do in the future,” the coach added. “He doesn’t want to just win the Big 12. He wants to win everything. It’s not the easiest. The Big 12 is a stage to get to the next level.”
Finley will have fun with Kokhanovsky trying to get there. Finley jokes that in his spare time, when he’s not listening to music with his mentor, he is being taught the Russian language.
“I know some small words like rabbit,” Finley said. “Stuff I don’t need.”
And the word ‘rabbit’ in Russian is ... ‘‘‘krolic,’ just so you know,” the easy-going Finley said with a smile.