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Viall's hoops career ongoing

Basketball still part of life for former Waukesha North standout

Dec. 20, 2011

When the subject of Maria Viall comes up, all kinds of things come to mind.

First you think of her as arguably the best female high school basketball player in Waukesha North history. Her record at North speaks for itself.

Second, you remember her outstanding NCAA Division 1 college career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she finished her four-year collegiate run as one of the most productive players in school history. To this day, she still holds several school records and ranks as the second-leading scorer (1,867 points) and second-leading rebounder (971) in school history. For her career, she shot a remarkable 54 percent from the floor, second-best in UWM history.

From there, you might have lost track of the lifelong Waukesha resident. But one thing is for certain. After graduating from UWM in 2004, the 6-foot-3 Viall didn't disappear from the basketball scene.

Viall, 29, was put on the WNBA draft list after her senior season but did not get selected. Instead, she opted to play professionally overseas, something she had wanted to do since her junior year in Milwaukee.

In 2004-05, Viall played in Hungary and averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds per game. She returned to Waukesha after that season and had arthroscopic knee surgery that forced her to sit out the next year.

After recovering at home and working out on her own, Viall returned to professional basketball overseas, and this time opted to play in Sweden. Once again, the talented post player had a lot of success, averaging 14 points per game and 10 rebounds.

But after that season, Viall decided to hang up her sneakers. Her knee was good, but it wasn't 100 percent.

"After the year in Sweden I made the decision to give up playing basketball," Viall said. "I just didn't want to injure my knee again. I wanted to make sure that I was going to be totally healthy the rest of my adult life. I had a lot of fun playing professionally overseas. I learned a lot about the game and a lot about the cultures and lifestyles abroad. It was a great experience. But I knew it was time to give up the game that I had so much fun playing."

On the call

However, a phone call one night drew her back into the game. The UWM athletic department called and asked her if she would be interested in doing the color commentary for their televised games on Time Warner Cable.

"The call kind of came out of the blue," Viall said. "I had never done anything like that before. I thought about it and decided to give it a try. I never had a problem talking a lot, so I thought it might work, and here I am now in my fourth year. It's been a lot of fun."

Viall works with play-by-play announcer Bob Brainerd, who lives in Delafield.

"Bob is a great guy and he's wonderful to work with," Viall said. "We have very good chemistry. We go back and forth all the time, tease each other a lot. We make the telecasts as much fun as we can."

Viall had great career

While she's not certain about her future in broadcasting, there's little doubt that Viall, one of 11 children in her family, made her mark as a player on the court.

At North, where she graduated in 2000, she was named to the Classic 8 Conference all-league team three straight years. As a senior, she was named the co-Player of the Year along with Becky Buer of Mukwonago. She won the individual scoring title her last two years, averaging 17.9 and 18.3 points per game.

The Northstars went 13-15 in the highly competitive Classic 8 her final two seasons. Those two years are generally regarded as the best two years for overall talent in the 14-year history of the conference.

She was recruited by numerous schools from all over the country. In the end, it came down to either UW-Green Bay or UW-Milwaukee.

"At first, I really wanted to get away, playing out east, west or down south," Viall said. "But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to stay close to my family. I had five brothers and five sisters and I wanted to give my family a good chance to watch me play. So it came down to Green Bay and Milwaukee, and I finally picked Milwaukee. It turned out to be a great choice."

In her four years with the Panthers, her Milwaukee team turned in a mark of 71-44. She played in 115 games and averaged an outstanding 16.2 points per game and averaged 9.1 rebounds per contest. Her final two seasons, she averaged 18.1 and 18.2 points per game, respectively, and averaged 10.9 rebounds per game in the 2003-04 season.

In her 115 games, Viall recorded 36 double-doubles and 98 times scored in double figures. In 41 of her games, she scored 20 or more points, getting a career-high of 33 points against Butler in 2002. She twice grabbed 21 rebounds in a game, still a school record.

While she was named to the Horizon League All Conference feam three years in a row, her best honor came her when she was named the league's Player of the Year as a junior and senior. As a senior, she was named to the district All American team.

"I didn't know what to expect when I got to college," Viall said. "I didn't even know if I could make the team. I was the little fish in the sea. But I worked hard and learned a lot from the coaches and the other players on the team. It was a little scary at first; it was so different than playing in high school. I had to reclaim my territory. I feel fortunate that everything worked out. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and pretty competitive, so I knew after a few weeks that if I worked hard and improved, I'd be OK."

Based on how things worked out for Viall, she did a lot better than OK.

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