"I remember that play exactly," said Werner, a 6-8, 220-pounder from Lincroft (NJ) Christian Brothers Academy that is as comfortable playing the power forward on the inside as he is stepping out on the wing to knock down a three. "Joakim got the ball down in the paint and he could have scored but he didn't hesitate to kick it out to a guy who was wide open for a three. Even though the guy missed the shot I thought that's the kind of team to play for … they're so unselfish."
At the time the Gators were winning the national title, Werner was committed to North Carolina State but when Coach Herb Sendek resigned (he later accepted the head coaching job at Arizona State), that changed everything. Werner got his release from NC State and opened things up on the recruiting front. He re-considered NC State and he also took a hard look at Pitt and Notre Dame, but in the end, it came down to a Florida-Kentucky battle.
For the last couple of weeks it was widely thought that Florida had an edge but Saturday he ended all the speculation by announcing he was a Gator and would be enrolling at the University of Florida on June 26. In a telephone interview with Gator Country on Saturday afternoon, Werner said that the final decision came down to the fact that Florida just felt like the right place and Donovan felt like the right coach.
"You have to go with what feels right and Florida was the right fit," said Werner, a four-star (by Scout.com) recruit that will join 6-10 Marreese Speights of Hargrave Military Academy (VA) 6-7 Jonathon Mitchell of Mount Vernon (NY), 6-5 Doneal Mack of Statesville (NC) Christian and 6-4 Brandon Powell of Memphis Mitchell. The addition of Werner should vault Florida to a position somewhere between 10 and 15 in the final recruiting class rankings of Scout.com.
What made it the right fit for Werner was the combination of academics at the University of Florida, the college town atmosphere and what Billy Donovan brings to the table as a coach.
"Coach Donovan is a huge reason I'll be a Gator," said Werner. "He's interested in the total person and that means a lot to me. He's very involved in your life and making sure you're going to class and doing the right thing. They have a real chance to repeat as national champions and I think Coach Donovan is a big reason for that.
"He has a passion for coaching and making kids better people and better as basketball players. He puts all his efforts into that. He just cares about people. I'm really comfortable with him."
Donovan also made a huge impression on Ron Werner, Dan's father, who said the past two months have been quite an ordeal for his son.
"First off, if Herb Sendek had stayed at North Carolina State, there is no question we'd still be there," said Ron Werner. "But, when he left that changed everything. I also want to say that Herb Sendek was the total pro throughout all this. He has always been a class guy. He never once said a negative word about NC State and he was helpful in any way he could be. We asked questions and he gave honest answers. We really appreciate him
"We felt Billy Donovan has a lot of qualities like Herb Sendek and we felt very good about the people he has on his coaching staff like Larry Shyatt. His [Donovan's] commitment is to make his student-athletes better players and making sure they excel in the classroom. For what we can see, he's a guy that's going to be in place for awhile that we won't have to worry about moving on."
Dan Werner played in the McDonald's Capitol Classic with fellow Gator recruits Jonathon Mitchell and Doneal Mack, so he is already somewhat familiar with the incoming recruiting class that Donovan has assembled. The Gators have all five starters returning from a national championship team along with key reserves Chris Richard and Walter Hodge. Add in the recruiting class and this could be the deepest and most talented team that Donovan has had at Florida.
"There's a lot of talent, that's for sure," said Werner. "I'm coming in to do my best to earn playing time. I'm really excited about finding a place to fit in on this team."
He says the strong points of his game are his ability to pass the basketball, his understanding of the game and his ability to stretch defenses because he can go inside or outside equally well. He believes he has to develop a quicker first step so he can take the ball to the rack with more authority off the dribble and he knows he has to spend plenty of time with Florida's strength and conditioning coaches.
"I'm going to have to get in great shape because of the way those guys play," he said. "They play hard every single play. There is no such thing as taking even one play off with those guys. I've got to learn to play as hard as they play. I think that will be the biggest adjustment for me."
Werner averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds per game for a 27-2 team his senior year in high school. He will participate in freshman orientation at the beginning of Summer B on June 26 and he will start classes one day later.
"I'm not going to waste any time getting there," he said. "I'm going to load up my car this weekend and I'm heading down to Gainesville on Monday. I want to get settled in before we start classes."
At the University of Florida, Werner says he will major either in business administration or construction management.