As a freshman on Florida’s 2007 NCAA championship team, Dan Werner grew accustomed to Joakim Noah’s chest thumping, vocal leadership. When Noah was excited everybody got excited and that meant everyone from teammates to Gator basketball fans. Noah was high energy and everybody fed off him.
Two years later, Noah and his vocal, demonstrative style of leadership are just a memory and the Gators are still searching for someone to fill that gap. As one of only two upperclassmen on the team, Werner is expected to step up his leadership role but there’s a slight problem.
If you want someone to lead by example, then Werner is your guy. There is no questioning his work ethic, willingness to be coached or determination. He does all the things he’s asked to do and then some.
The problem is that Billy Donovan wants him to take on a more vocal role and that goes against the grain for a strong, silent type that feels a bit uncomfortable raising his voice.
“My whole life I’ve never been the kind of guy that gets on someone or starts yelling at him,” said Werner before Thursday’s practice as the Gators (7-2) prepare for a Saturday showdown with Central Florida (5-3) at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena (6:30 p.m., Sun Sports TV). “I’ve always done what I’m supposed to do, do what I know how to do the right way and hopefully guys follow that way. I’ve never had to really get on guys and tell them how to do it. I’ve always been willing to show them how to do it.”
Werner plays hard at both ends of the court and has proven in the last two years that he can be the tough guy. He doesn’t have imposing size (he’s 6-8, 230) and he won’t wow you with his elevation (don’t expect him to win any slam dunk contests), but he won’t back down from anyone and he’s never afraid to mix it up on the inside with bigger, stronger types. Through nine games, Werner is averaging 11.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game plus he has earned Billy Donovan’s praise as Florida’s best defensive player.
There is no question that Werner does everything well enough that he is an indispensible cog in Florida’s lineup. Donovan has no problems with Werner’s play on the court. What he wants to see is Werner elevate the play of all his teammates.
“He needs to bring other people with him,” said Donovan. “He needs to bring other people along and that’s the challenge.”
A hard-nosed defender and rebounder, Werner is an excellent passer and a great example of unselfishness. From a fundamental standpoint, he does everything right and
If he had his way, teammates would see what all the things he does and follow suit but it doesn’t always work that way.
“We try to lead by example but sometimes that only goes so far,” said Werner. “You have to get on a young guy’s back and try to tell them how to do instead of just show by example. You have to talk to them and tell them what to do.”
Those lead by example types are essential for winning basketball teams but there is no underestimating what one leader that combines example with vocal leadership can do. Noah did that for Florida’s back-to-back NCAA championship basketball teams.
Tim Tebow is doing that for Florida’s football team. In the SEC Championship Game, Tebow almost willed the Gators to win with the sheer force of his emotion in the second half against Alabama. Tebow does that sort of thing naturally. The same was true for Noah.
It’s not natural for Werner. This is an acquired trait and something he’s learning on the fly.
“My whole life I’ve never been the guy to scream and stuff like that,” said Werner. “I don’t think it’s my natural thing but somethings you have to do, even stuff you’re not used to doing.”
Knowing he has to be more vocal and knowing exactly what to say is a bit of a problem for him. Werner is quiet and reserved, a man who picks and chooses his words carefully.
Opening up to become a vocal leader requires a certain amount of spontaneity and that’s another area that is a work in progress.
“I think it’s step by step. It’s not like one day you’re going to have all these things to say. I think it’s just day-by-day you have to build on it and become a leader.”
INJURY UPDATE: Freshman center/power forward Allan Chaney has a sprained foot that kept him from practicing three days this week. He was scheduled to practice Thursday but his playing time might be limited Saturday.
Sophomore forward Adam Allen’s knee is coming along slowly. He worked out briefly last week but soreness has prevented him from working out since. Allen is becoming a prime candidate for a redshirt.
Freshman center/forward Eloy Vargas is starting to work out with the team and he is making progress. Vargas could suit up with the team and see his first playing time sometime around the first of the year.