Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Jim Counce:

'Triplets' to share space with teammate

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Rick Robey of Kentucky, left, flails his arms as Jim Counce (42) of Arkansas tries to pass during semifinal NCAA action in St. Louis, Mo., March 25, 1978. (AP Photo)
Rick Robey of Kentucky, left, flails his arms as Jim Counce (42) of Arkansas tries to pass during semifinal NCAA action in St. Louis, Mo., March 25, 1978. (AP Photo)

"The Triplets" need to make some room in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame for another teammate from the University of Arkansas' 1978 Final Four team.

Jim Counce, a starting forward for the 1978 Razorbacks, is among the members of this year's Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame class who will be inducted at a banquet on March 13 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.

Jim Counce at a glance

COLLEGE Arkansas

POSITION Forward

HOMETOWN Memphis

AGE 63 (born June 5, 1956)

FAMILY Wife, Kathy; daughters, Jennifer, Meredith and Natalie

NOTEWORTHY Starting forward for Arkansas’ 1976-77 and 1977-78 basketball teams that were 26-2 and 32-4. Helped Arkansas advance to the 1978 Final Four. … Was called the Razorbacks’ “defensive stopper” by coach Eddie Sutton. … An Arkansas assistant coach for Sutton before deciding to attend medical school in Little Rock. … Became a heart surgeon and lives in Springdale. … Inducted into the UA Sports Hall of Honor in 2009. … Played at Memphis White Station High School and was Sutton’s first signee at Arkansas in the spring of 1974. … Fourth member of Arkansas’ 1977-78 team to be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame along with Sidney Moncrief (1993), Ron Brewer (1994) and Marvin Delph (1998).

The second in a series profiling inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020.

Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph -- all 6-4 guards from the state of Arkansas who starred for the 1978 Razorbacks and were nicknamed "The Triplets" by NCAA broadcaster Al McGuire -- were inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, 1994 and 1998, respectively.

"We're absolutely thrilled to welcome Jimmy into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame," Delph said. "It's awesome he's going to be in there with us, and he's very deserving of this honor."

Moncrief said he's excited for Counce.

"This is a very appropriate honor because Jimmy has a lot to do with the history of the game of basketball in the state of Arkansas," Moncrief said.

"He made such a great impact for the Razorbacks. The most beautiful part about playing at Arkansas with Jimmy is that we're still friends and still support one another. That's special. More special than basketball."

As a starter for coach Eddie Sutton's Razorbacks, the 6-7 Counce averaged 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds as a junior on the 1976-77 team, and 4.2 points and 4.2 rebounds as a senior on the 1977-78 team. Moncrief said his contributions went well beyond those stats.

"Jimmy brought not only a high level of basketball IQ, but he provided great chemistry for our team," Moncrief said. "He knew he was a very good player, but his ego was in check.

"Jimmy's strength was playing defense. He could guard a small forward, could guard a power forward and could guard a center. What he could do defensively took so much pressure off the rest of us."

Brewer said someone who didn't watch Counce play might wonder about his Hall of Fame credentials.

"If you look at his scoring average, the first thing you'd say is, 'How did they induct him into the Hall of Fame?' But it's not about that," Brewer said. "Jimmy was the ultimate team player on a great team. The success that Sidney and Marvin and I had, it was because of Jimmy. That's why he's a Hall of Famer."

Sutton called Counce the Razorbacks' "stopper" who drew the assignment of guarding the opponents' top scorer.

"If there was a defensive All-American squad, he'd be on the first team," Sutton said during Counce's junior season.

Counce helped the Razorbacks accumulate a combined 58-6 record during his junior and senior seasons.

" 'The Triplets' get a lot of credit for our success, as they should, because they were all great players," said Pat Foster, an assistant coach for the Razorbacks from 1972-80 and head coach at Lamar, Houston and Nevada who was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. "But the way Jim held the team together and understood not only his role, but every player's role, was something to watch.

"Jim was like another coach on the floor for us. He was a guy that was kind of a liaison between the coaches and the players, and he was so respected by everyone on the team."

Delph said the Razorbacks wouldn't have reached the heights they did without Counce, who as a senior led the team with 119 assists.

"Jimmy could score, but that really wasn't his forte," Delph said. "His forte was playing great defense.

"He was a good rebounder, but if he didn't get the rebound, he made sure his man didn't get the rebound. He set good screens, made good passes.

"Oftentimes all the things Jimmy could do get overlooked, but they're just as essential as the guy that's making all the buckets. His teammates knew how valuable and what a great asset Jimmy was, how vital he was to our success."

Counce, a heart surgeon who lives in Springdale, said he never expected to be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. The honor is especially meaningful, Counce said, as it comes 42 years after he played his last game for the Razorbacks.

"It's humbling and gratifying at the same time, particularly when you consider the caliber of all the people who already are in the state Hall of Fame," said Counce, who is 63. "To me, it's more a team recognition than an individual recognition."

Counce, who averaged 3.5 field goal attempts as a starter, said he might have been more inclined to shoot if he hadn't played with Moncrief, Brewer and Delph.

"But I wouldn't have wanted to be a scorer on another team," he said. "I wouldn't have traded the experience of playing at Arkansas with those guys for anything in the world."

Counce was an assistant coach for Sutton -- a 1983 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee -- with the Razorbacks before deciding to attend medical school in Little Rock.

It was tough to give up coaching, Counce said, but becoming a surgeon was the right choice for him.

"I don't have any doubts Jimmy would have done well in coaching if he had stayed with it," Foster said. "He was a natural teacher and had a great feel for people."

Counce smiled when asked whether he has wondered how his coaching career would have turned out.

"I probably would have been fired several times like all the other coaches," he said.

Counce, who came to Arkansas from Memphis White Station High School, was Sutton's first signee with the Razorbacks in the spring of 1974.

"The most fortunate thing that happened to me was not only did I come along at a time when coach Sutton became the Arkansas coach, but I came along when three of the greatest players in the history of Arkansas high school basketball all graduated within a year of each other," said Counce, referring to Moncrief, Brewer and Delph. "The greatest thing about playing with those guys is everybody on the team recognized how good they were, but they never acted like they were better than anybody else.

"They've always been quick to give me credit. That's the kind of people they are, that's the kind of teammates they are, and that's the kind of friends they are."

Counce broke out in laughter when it was jokingly suggested perhaps he could be known as one of "The Quadruplets" now that he is joining Moncrief, Brewer and Delph in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Brewer said he considers Counce family.

"Jimmy is like a brother to me," Brewer said. "That's how I feel about him."

Along with Arkansas, Counce was recruited by Memphis State, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida.

"Vanderbilt was where I really wanted to go to school," he said. "It was only 200 miles from Memphis, and I had some classmates from high school going to Vanderbilt. Great academics, and Vanderbilt won the SEC championship in 1974."

Counce said he got a letter from Vanderbilt late in the recruiting process stating he wouldn't be offered a scholarship.

"The letter said they were going after some other players," Counce said. "They thought they were going to get Rick Robey."

Robey, a high school star in New Orleans, ended up signing with Kentucky, where he played against Counce when the No. 1 Wildcats beat No. 5 Arkansas 64-59 at the 1978 Final Four in St. Louis.

The Vanderbilt letter didn't automatically mean Counce was going to Arkansas.

"I was totally unimpressed with the Arkansas facilities because of the way Barnhill Arena was at that time," Counce said, recalling the sawdust floor. "I remember thinking, 'There is no way I'll ever play here.' It was worse than a barn."

But Sutton won Counce over.

"I was very impressed with coach Sutton," Counce said. "He was young, he was energetic. He had a great basketball pedigree. He spoke with great confidence about the things he thought we could accomplish.

"Coach Sutton said, 'There's four things that will happen if you come to school here. The first thing is you'll get your degree. The second thing is sometime during your career, we'll take the team to Hawaii to play.'

"Then he said, 'While you're here, we'll win a Southwest Conference championship.' I'm starting to think, 'Now, well, you're making some pretty bold predictions.' Because Arkansas was 10-16 the year before, and it had been 1958 since they'd won a conference championship.

"Finally, coach Sutton said, 'And we'll get to a Final Four while you're here.' To think that everything he said in his recruiting pitch came true was pretty remarkable considering where the program was at the time."

While Arkansas' program took off under Sutton, Vanderbilt dropped off after winning the 1974 SEC title. The Commodores averaged 13 victories the four seasons Counce played for the Razorbacks.

"You think about the decisions you make in your lifetime that you know are important, but you have no idea how well they're going to turn out or how poorly they're going to turn out," Counce said. "But my decision to come to Arkansas is one of the absolute best decisions I ever made, because it has shaped my life in a way that I could never have imagined."

Delph chuckled when reminded that Vanderbilt had been Counce's first choice in the recruiting process.

"It's a good thing Jimmy didn't end up going to Vanderbilt," Delph said. "If he'd gone to Vanderbilt, he wouldn't be going into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame."

Sports on 03/03/2020

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