PONTIAC, Ill. — Jim Drengwitz remembers the phone that didn't ring.
It was fall 2006, and Drengwitz, the director of what is touted as the nation's oldest holiday basketball tournament, assumed he'd have to find a replacement for Pontiac's biggest draw.
"When Derrick Rose was a senior I was waiting for a phone call from those guys saying they had an opportunity to go to Palm Springs or Portland for a big shootout, or somewhere else," Drengwitz said.
"Peoria Manual has been coming here forever, but when they had Sergio McClain, Frank Williams and Marcus Griffin they went to the King Cotton one year and came back.
"But I never got a call from (Simeon coach) Robert Smith. When they showed up the first day I told him how much I appreciated it because I knew he could have gone anywhere. He said, '(Former Simeon coach) Bob Hambric always taught me to take care of the people who take care of you.' They have been loyal to us."
Simeon has been going to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament since 1995, and every new year invitations arrive from far more glamorous places than the home of Illinois' Route 66 museum.
Drengwitz said he offers Simeon the same profit-sharing percentage — zero — as the other 15 schools that participate.
The Wolverines could go to Florida, South Carolina, California — even Hawaii.
"That one was tough to pass up," Smith said.
Not as tough as leaving Pontiac.
"I listened to other people's phone calls, but deep down this is the place I want to be," Smith said. "The environment is a hotbed right now. Kids enjoy watching us play, and not just Simeon. They enjoy basketball. It is just different."
'The greatest spectacle in basketball'
What this quiet Central Illinois town of about 12,000 lacks in excitement or weather it makes up for in basketball history.
It is fitting that Simeon's drive to join Peoria Manual as the only schools to win four consecutive Illinois high school state championships includes a stop here.
Peoria Manual and the great Quincy teams led by Michael Payne and Keith and Bruce Douglas are the only programs to win this tournament five straight times.
Aside from Simeon, which won three straight here during the Rose era and was playing for its third straight Saturday, Centralia is the only other school to take home the Century Bowl Trophy for winning three consecutive championships.
"They call the Indianapolis 500 the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing," said Frank Arnolts, who planned to take a front-row seat for his 53rd consecutive championship game Saturday night. "I call this tournament the greatest spectacle in basketball.
"Our whole town gets behind this. It takes a community effort to make this happen. We do the little stuff to make our tournament better. It is a small-town atmosphere, and I think everyone likes that."
Arnolts remembers an awful lot, including the afro.
The recently retired Pontiac High custodian has seen every tournament since 1960, and his granddaughter Sydney's debut this year makes her the fourth generation of Carol Arnolts' family to sit in the front row of the 3,000-seat gym.
He rattled off a slew of favorite memories: Bob Trumpy playing for Springfield at the old Armory in 1960; Bob Bender's 50-point game for Bloomington in 1974 that "would have been in the 60s" with a 3-point arc; Pontiac High's lone title that same year; the showdown between Walter Downing of Providence and Quincy's Michael Payne in 1980, the great Lockport, Quincy and Manual teams.
Also among them was the 1979 night a couple of Chicago Bulls strolled into the gym.
"All of a sudden Artis Gilmore and Scott May walk in," Arnolts said. "Artis Gilmore's brother, Oren, had moved up from Jacksonville and was playing for Bloom. Artis was just huge.
"He was 7-1 or 7-2, and styles being what they were at the time, he had another four or five inches from his afro. All the kids came up to him. He was polite, but he was here for the game."
The tournament's current darlings, Simeon, know the feeling.
At one point last year, the Wolverines snuck out a side door. Swarmed following their 77-20 first-round victory over East Moline United on Thursday night, the team signed autographs in the auditorium for an hour and a half after beating Bloomington 88-53 in the second round Friday night.
"It's such a small town, people expect to get the most out of you while you're here," Simeon senior Jabari Parker said. "It is just normal for me. It comes with it."
Parker was merely answering a question, not complaining.
With five out-of-state trips on the schedule, the middle-of-nowhere charm of Pontiac is appealing. It's a big reason Simeon has spent every week between Christmas and New Year's here since 1995.
"I always like coming here," said Parker, who entered the tournament with a chance to become the first three-time winner of the A.C Williamson Award. "It is so sad to say it's my last year. We've been staying at the same hotel, been doing the same thing my whole time at Simeon.
"There are no distractions. Other tournaments we would be closer to the city. Right now there is nobody here. Probably the gas stations close after 10. It keeps us in the whole mind-set of basketball and just trying to get better as a team.
"A lot of guys came out of this tournament. Last year I saw the pamphlet with the guys and the records. It has been a competition for me to put myself against other guys. It is a real special place."