Meeting Florida Gators Hoops 'Elite' Behind-the-Scenes Weapons

Jacquie Franciulli

GAINESVILLE, Fla.— A college basketball season is a long, strenuous journey that is filled with ups and downs.

Thats why any good college head coach knows that your team is only as good as the people you have around the program. The good news for Mike White? He has a few weapons in his arsenal.

Two nationally recognized weapons.

Meet Dave “Duke" Werner and Preston Greene.

Werner has spent nearly three decades with he University of Florida. The current Assistant Athletic Director of Sports Health has spent nearly 20 of those years with the basketball program - while also providing leadership for Florida’s entire sports health team of athletic trainers.

Meanwhile, Greene, Florida’s Director of Strength and Conditioning for basketball, golf and tennis, arrived on campus in 2011, and like Werner, is one of the most respected practitioner in his field.

"I am here to develop the student athlete from a physical and mental standpoint,” said Greene.

"I am kind of the day to day the person that they see,” explained Werner. “But I work within a big team of orthopedic physicians, family practice physicians...We have physical therapists on our staff, so I am kind of the gatekeeper.”

“Their value goes way beyond weights and taping ankles,” said Gators head coach Mike White. “What they do for this program is unmeasurable.”

“They are a big reason why I came here,” said former Gators forward Kerry Blackshear, who transferred to the Florida program prior to last season. “They are both elite in the field, understanding how to get the most of guy’s bodies for a full season.”

"When I first got here, Preston told me he was going to make me bigger,” said Gators guard Tyree Appleby. "He believed me. Everybody I thought I was too small to get to this level. Duke is telling me that I wasn’t going to be hurt. I was going to be in safe hands was a big part of me coming here.”

Their resume speaks for themselves. With guys like Bradley Beal, Devin Robinson, and Patric Young among the guys these two have trained and treated, it’s not hard to see why these players have such faith in them.

This trust is solidified as soon as these players arrive on campus.

"When they get here, the very first day, I like to do a whole assessment from a strength standpoint, flexibility standpoint, different things like that. So we basically design their program off of their evaluation and assessment that they undergo,” said Greene. “Basically what they are not good at or what their weaknesses or deficiencies are, the programs are prepared to correct that in the initial phase.”

“He knows exactly what you need and what you need to do in order to get your body bigger,” said Appleby.

“I am running faster. I am getting stronger,” said Florida guard Scottie Lewis.”He builds character with jokes in the weight room so he is helping us out with that as well.”

“They are treated differently in the sense with how I coach them,” said Greene. “Some guys respond to more intense hands on, in your face style, some guys you have to let back and get comfortable with you, and they learn that I care about them, and I am a resource for them to get better.

“You have to understand too, when they first get here on campus, I am with them every single day," added Greene, "so those relationships organically are going to form.”

“I kind of see them at their best and I also am one of the few people that here that see them at their worst - when they are injured or if there are mental health concerns,” said Werner. “Anything that a lot of people don’t see or don’t know that is going on, I am the guy that helps them with that.”

“Duke has two national championships,” said Lewis. “He has worked with guys that have had extreme amounts of success.”

“He is another guy that you can’t talk to besides your coach and your dad about serious situations in your life,” said Appleby.”He is always here to listen and he is always here to help.”

They may have several National Championships, SEC Championships, Final Fours and Elite Eights between them, but that doesn’t mean they are not ready to learn and adapt.

Young athletes are now specializing sooner, playing the same sport since they are four years old - which means more miles on specific muscles, which means more wear and tear.

Seasons are also longer and the NCAA now allows basketball teams to practice for a few hours for eight weeks in the offseason.

If they are not careful it could be a mentally and physically draining journey for an athlete.

“Duke and I are an extension of coach White,” said Greene. “Even if he is gone, I am talking to him on the phone, texting with him, I want to be an extension of his voice and his message.”

“We are health care providers that maybe go a little deeper than the normal physical therapists and physician that is seeing them for an orthopedic injury or illness,” said Werner. “We are really kind of providing support when their families are not here. I think we are helping them with a lot of stuff.”

“We look up to them,” said Lewis.