She’s the million-dollar smile behind the microphone, the one asking players and coaches questions along the sidelines.
A basketball analyst in sports broadcasting, Julianne Viani can often be seen on ESPN, CBS Sports Network, NextVR, Big 10 Network and MSG Network covering men’s and women’s college hoops, the NBA and WNBA. How she landed a broadcasting career as a former star player is a “God story” that mirrors several other moments throughout her life. They’re moments that, as she looks back, compel her to shout her three famous words: “Glory to God!”
It took nearly two years of planning between Sean McNamara, Vice President of Field Ministry for the Northeast, and Frank Reynoso, FCA’s Inner City Regional Coordinator, to establish FCA in one of the world’s largest cities: Reynoso’s hometown of New York City. He was thrilled at the opportunity to reach up to 11 million people living in the city’s five boroughs and Long Island. As Reynoso looked for influencers who could rally support, then-board member Jason Harewood, now an FCA staffer in the area, suggested a basketball player he remembered from her Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) days, someone he’d connected with during a 3Dimensional Coaching® Clinic at the New York Giants Training Facility: Julianne Viani. “I was impressed with how she presented herself,” remembered Harewood. Reynoso called Viani who jumped at the opportunity to help.
“When you think of the impact we can have in a highly-populated area like New York City—there’s more people in each of the boroughs than in some states in the country—it’s unbelievable,” she said. She quickly began speaking to athletes and sharing the ministry with other contacts, uncovering more ways God would use basketball to open doors.
“I started playing basketball in kindergarten, and literally my whole life has revolved around sports,” Viani said, laughing as she explained her childhood.
"I wouldn't be who I am, or where I am, without God!"
- Julianne Viali
One of three girls, she says her parents were very committed to their daughters’ success—a commitment that has paid off. In high school, Viani won three of her four New York state championship games and helped lead her team to become one of the top teams in the country. Following high school, her sister played for Villanova, and Julianne signed with Marist College. In college, she became a four-time MAAC Champion, made four NCAA appearances, and led her team to their first-ever Sweet 16 in program history. In 2009, Viani was named Marist College’s Female Athlete of the Year, and, in 2014, she was inducted into the MAAC Basketball Hall of Fame. Following college, Viani played professionally in Europe before returning to the U.S., where she was offered a chance at sports broadcasting.
“Someone who covered my games in high school asked if I wanted to get into TV,” she said. “They threw me in—I had no training in this. I’d never carried a broadcast, but I did it scared. I knew God was with me. God’s caused me to have some success, and it’s crazy.” Broadcasting became yet one more reason for Viani to point upwards and give all the glory to Christ.
“I remember praying with my mom in my sister’s bed and accepting Christ as my Savior,” said Viani. “I cried my eyes out, and I was never the same after that. God got ahold of me at age 12, and since then I’ve been spiritually hungry.” It’s a hunger that Reynoso has seen firsthand.
“She adds credibility to our board. Her witness and being the real deal helps us promote FCA in NYC. If a coach sees her character, they’re more likely to embrace FCA when they see her connected to us.”
– Frank Reynoso, FCA’s Inner City Regional Coordinator
“When I met her, I knew she was different—she’s sold out,” he said, which makes her a great fit for NYC-FCA. As an athlete, Viani was often the only Christian on her teams but stood firm and anchored her identity in Christ.
“In college, I visualized God sitting in one seat in the arenas, and I would look at that seat and think, ‘That’s who I’m pleasing— not fans or the people around me.’ The pressures of being an elite athlete are high; faith is the only thing that got me through that.” Thanks to her church, her mom, and a mentor named Debbie Dalbo, she learned how to study and apply the Word of God as an athlete. And because she was discipled, she’s now passionate about helping other coaches and athletes get discipled too. “I know because I’ve played, and I now work in sports—its reach is big and wide,” Viani emphasized. “Why do you think millions of fans attend baseball and basketball games? People are obsessed with sports, and there’s such a ground to sow the Gospel.”
The ground that NYC-FCA sits upon is proving to be fertile. In five years, FCA-NYC has grown to host 70 Huddles and employ six FCA staff. “Ministry is happening throughout the NYC metropolitan region, and it’s growing,” Harewood reported. “We’ve had two successful years of Camps for the first time in this area, and we do coaches’ ministries, clinics, 3Dimensional Coaching®, training and more. We know ministries take time, but God is faithful and sending the right resources.” The faithfulness of God is a lesson Viani is also learning right now. Between getting married this year (Reynoso is officiating) and balancing a full travel schedule, she’s trusting God with the changes in her life and positions He’s calling her into, including leadership within NYC-FCA.
“I’m not the boots on the ground right now—I’m a voice and someone that can support and provide connections,” she said. “When I look at guys like Frank and Jason who raise their own money to do this, they are amazing to me. I give and support what I can to help keep it going.” Regardless of where she is or what she’s doing, one thing is certain: She’ll be giving all the glory to God.
Photos courtesy of Julianne Viani and Frank Reynoso