Counce: From playmaker to life saver

This is the first in a series of features on the 2009 University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor inductees.Over the years, Jim Counce has been referred to as a forward, a doctor, a Razorback, a coach, a surgeon, a defensive stopper and an academic All-American. Now he can add hall of famer to the list.Counce, an Arkansas basketball letterman from 1975-78, is part of the University of Arkansas Hall of Honor class for 2009.Playing on a team featuring the “Triplets” of Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief, Counce was one of the “other” starters in 1978 along with center Steve Schall.That club, under head coach Eddie Sutton, put Arkansas basketball on the national map by going 32-4, winning the Southwest Conference title, reaching the Final Four and earning a No. 5 final ranking.The Triplets received most of the attention and combined to score 52 of Arkansas’ 75 points per game, but who got them the ball? Counce led the team with 3.3 assists per game. In addition to regularly drawing the team’s toughest defensive assignment, he was fifth on the team with 4.2 points, fourth with 4.2 rebounds and third with 20 blocked shots. He had eight points and nine rebounds in a win over Houston, 10 points and six rebounds in a win over SMU, eight points and eight rebounds in a win over Baylor, and 11 points and seven boards in another win over SMU. In the NCAA Tournament, he had four points and eight rebounds against Weber State, and six points against Kentucky.The ’78 season followed a junior year in which Counce averaged 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds on a team finishing 26-2, including 16-0 in the SWC with conference tournament and regular season titles, and Arkansas’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1958. Counce had 12 points against Wake Forest in the NCAA Tournament, and 10 against both Rice and TCU.Counce was known for his defense and usually guarded the opposing team’s top scorer. Houston All-American Otis Birdsong averaged better than 30 points for the season, but in three games against Counce and the Hogs, he averaged 21.7.The summer between his junior and senior seasons, he worked as a doctor’s aid in his hometown of Memphis. After earning academic All-America honors in 1978 and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1979, he played for Athletes in Action in 1980 before working as an assistant coach under Sutton in 1981 and 1982. Those two clubs won SWC championships and advanced in the NCAA Tournament, but the experience working with doctors paid more dividends for Counce.He earned his M.D. from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 1986, interned through 1987 and served his residency there in general surgery through 1991. He received a fellowship to the Cornell University Medical Center at New York Hospital in cardiothoracic surgery from 1991-93, became certified by the American Board of Surgery in 1992 and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery in 1994.A cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon in Fayetteville, he practices at Washington Regional Medical in Fayetteville, Northwest Medical Center in Springdale and Northwest Medical in Bentonville.
UA Sports Hall of Honor members are selected by a vote of former letterwinners in conjunction with the “A” Club. The official induction is Friday, Sept. 18, at the Holiday Inn in Springdale. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased from the Razorback Foundation. For more information, call the Razorback Foundation at 479-443-9000.