Michigan State’s Adreian Payne Loses His Biggest Little Fan
By Ashley Woods
College basketball fans across the country fell for the story of an uncommon friendship between a hoops star and one of his biggest fans: 6’10” Adreian Payne, a senior on the Michigan State Spartans, and a little girl in a long blonde wig who went by the nickname “Princess Lacey.”
Lacey Holsworth, age 8, of St. Johns, Mich., died early Wednesday, April 9, according to media reports. Her battle with a rare form of cancer led her to Payne, with whom she formed an achingly close bond.
The friendship between Payne and Lacey wasn’t just unusual, it was unlikely. Many expected Payne to leave Michigan State University for the NBA after his junior year. But Payne, who had been diagnosed as cognitively disabled as a child in Dayton, Ohio, wanted to finish his coursework in sociology and become the first person from his family to earn a college degree.
Two years ago, during a team-sponsored hospital visit, he met Lacey, who had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer that invades the nerve tissue. The little girl had a football-sized tumor surrounding her kidney and another tumor wrapped around her spine when she was diagnosed in 2011. For several months, the cancer paralyzed her. By all accounts, she was drawn to Payne from the beginning.
Despite his life as a popular Michigan State basketball player and student, Payne visited Lacey in the hospital several times, and they began texting every day. When the Spartans competed in the Elite Eight this year, Lacey was there. When Payne competed during the NCAA slam dunk contest, Lacey sat in the stands. And when Payne was able to pick anyone in the world to accompany him on the floor for Senior Day this year, he chose Lacey.
“There’s days where the smiles don’t come as easily. When he can walk in the room and you can see her light up like that, it means everything,” her mother, Heather Holsworth, said in a segment filmed by the Big Ten Network.
“She has taught me to fight through everything, to always continue to have a smile on my face,” Payne said in the video, “even when things are going wrong.”
Lacey’s impact on Payne and the MSU basketball team will live on.