Werner faces Pack

Former recruit starts for Gators

Staff WriterJanuary 3, 2009 

  • Three players who committed to N.C. State under Herb Sendek decided not to enroll after he left for Arizona State:

    LARRY DAVIS

    SG, 6-4, Loyola Marymount

    Averaged 6.6 ppg in two seasons at Seton Hall before transferring

    DAN WERNER

    PF, 6-8, Florida

    Versatile big guy has 18 3-pointers

    CHRIS WRIGHT

    PG, 6-1, Georgetown

    Starting point guard as a sophomore

Florida's Dan Werner has an NCAA championship ring from his freshman season and a starting forward role as a junior.

His ability to shoot from the perimeter at 6 feet 8 helps him fit into Gators coach Billy Donovan's style, which relies heavily on 3-pointers.

There was a time when Werner's skills made him seem an ideal match for Herb Sendek's Princeton-style motion offense at N.C. State. Werner signed with N.C. State out of high school, but was released from his scholarship agreement after Sendek left for Arizona State following the 2005-06 season.

Along with Georgetown point guard Chris Wright and Loyola Marymount guard Larry Davis, Werner was part of a three-player exodus that left Sendek successor Sidney Lowe handcuffed during the early part of his tenure.

"It's very difficult," Lowe said as he prepared to visit Florida and Werner in today's 4 p.m. game, "because those young men were scheduled or planned to be a part of this program."

Werner, forward Dennis Horner and Davis, who is sitting out this season at Loyola Marymount after transferring from Seton Hall, had signed with N.C. State when Sendek was the coach. Wright had committed to the Wolfpack and was supposed to finally give Sendek the true point guard he had lacked for much of his tenure.

Horner, who is scheduled to start today, is the only recruit who was committed to N.C. State under Sendek who came to play under Lowe.

Although N.C. State could have demanded they honor their scholarship agreements, school officials agreed there was no sense forcing them to enroll if they didn't want to come.

"We were not happy that we couldn't keep them here," Lowe said. "My thing was to make sure those young men were happy with their decisions, and we let them go where they wanted to go."

Werner said Friday that he committed to N.C. State in part because he liked Sendek's coaching staff and system, and he fit in with the Wolfpack players. He was disappointed that it took N.C. State more than a month to name a new coach after Sendek left.

Although Werner liked Lowe after meeting him, the fact that Lowe had coached exclusively in the NBA concerned Werner.

"There were just a lot of unknowns," Werner said. "I wasn't comfortable and my parents weren't comfortable with a coach who didn't have college experience."

After being released from his scholarship, Werner signed with Florida and joined a team that had won the 2006 NCAA title. He played a small reserve role on the 2007 team that repeated as NCAA champions, and averages 10.5 points as Florida's starting power forward now.

He gave his NCAA championship ring to his mother for safekeeping.

"It was just an unbelievable experience," Werner said. "... To go to the Final Four, to win it all, was incredible."

N.C. State has yet to reach an NCAA Tournament since Sendek left. The Wolfpack is 44-34 under Lowe and in its second straight season with huge problems at point guard.

Wright, the one that got away, is averaging 13.5 points and a team-high 3.8 assists for Georgetown in an offense similar to the one Sendek ran at N.C. State.

Lowe said he had difficulty replacing the departed recruits because almost all the top players in Werner's class had committed by the time Lowe took the job. Even in Wright's class, other coaches had a huge jump on Lowe in developing relationships with prospects.

"It really sets you back," Lowe said. "You're just trying to find pieces. It certainly affected us. But I think we're getting back."

N.C. State's recent recruiting results seem to support that statement. All-Star Sports recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons rated Lowe's fall signing class of Richard Howell, Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown in the top 20 nationally.

Gibbons said Brown is a potential McDonald's All-American, and N.C. State still has a shot at three other elite prospects in point guard John Wall of Raleigh and post players Derrick Favors of Atlanta and DeMarcus Cousins of Mobile, Ala.

Now that Lowe has experience, Gibbons said, his NBA pedigree is helping attract players who hope his experience will help them get to the pros.

"[N.C. State] has become a major player in the state of Georgia, which is one of the hotbeds for talent on the East Coast right now," Gibbons said. "And no one can fault his recruiting for this year for sure, because they've got three bona fide players who will have an immediate impact when they get to college."

(Staff writer J.P. Giglio contributed to this story.)

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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