Werner finds role with new team


Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 11:42 p.m.

It wasn't the kind of performance that overwhelms you with the line in the box score.

There were bigger shots, players who scored more. He didn't lead Florida in any category Saturday during the Gators' victory over Auburn.

But Dan Werner did what he was supposed to do and because he's finally figured that out, the Gators are a better team.

“At the beginning of the season, I was awful,” Werner said. “Every game, I'm starting to figure it out more and more.”

The sophomore came into the season with a few ounces of experience gained on last year's national championship season and the lingering promise of a sensational high school career.

But promise doesn't always transfer to the floor, especially when your role has changed so drastically. The kid who fired up jumpers in high school had a difficult time making the transition to what he needs to be for this Florida team to be

successful.

“We needed toughness and we needed a dirty work guy,” Florida assistant coach Larry Shyatt said.

Finally, that's what they're getting out of Werner.

Even on a day when he didn't start because of an injured foot that caused him to miss two days of practice, Werner toughed it out for 30 minutes of playing time. He scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds.

But two plays epitomized the player that Werner has become for Florida.

One came late in the game when Auburn was tightening the screws on the Gators. The Tigers were supposed to wear down after playing a game Thursday night, but were hustling and scrapping to loose balls and keeping the game close.

A rebound went bounding toward the sideline, but Werner made a dive and a swat to knock it back to a teammate.

The other was pointed out by Florida coach Billy Donovan after the game. Auburn used a pick-and-roll that caught Florida out of position defensively. Werner deflected the ball away from Tigers guards Dewayne Reed for a turnover.

On a team so young, Werner has turned into the guy who will do the little things.

“I've got to be a guy who has to bang around, hit someone in the mouth if we're getting hit in the mouth, dive for loose balls,” Werner said.

Every team needs a guy like that but it wasn't an easy shift for Werner. There have been times this season that the game cried out for someone to be that guy and nobody stepped into the role.

“His role has become a little more crystallized for him,” Donovan said. “If I go in and bang and I play physical and tough there are things I can do to impact the game.

“Dan is one of our more cerebral kids. He's a very smart basketball player. I would say he's by far our smartest guy on the defensive end. He understands what we're trying to do and what the other team is trying to do to take advantage of us. I'm happy for him. He played a great game. He's doing the little things I've been trying to pound into his head for a year.”

It's not that Werner didn't get it earlier in the season. There were flashes of the Dan Werner everybody expected, like when he took over the Georgia Southern game (20 points, 14 rebounds) or had another double-double against Rutgers.

But it's been a learning process.

“He was waiting in line last year like a lot of the young guys,” Shyatt said. “Unfortunately, at the beginning of the year he was waiting in line.”

But as this season has progressed, so has Werner.

You see it from week to week, from game to game. He's willing to box out even if it doesn't mean he'll get the rebound. He's playing defense and diving for loose balls.

More than anything, Werner is doing exactly what this team needs him to do. And not everybody slides into that skin with ease.

“It was tough early because it was something different,” Werner said. “I enjoy it now. You don't enjoy it at first because you never did it, but you can see the rewards of it now.

“I realized what I had to do. It was just a matter of trying to figure out how to do it.”

On a team searching for an identity, he's one player who has found his.

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