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8-year-old girl befriended by hoops star dies

FILE - In this March 16 2014 file phoMichigan State forward Adreian Payne right hoists net with Lacey Holsworth after

FILE - In this March 16, 2014 file photo, Michigan State forward Adreian Payne, right, hoists the net with Lacey Holsworth after Michigan State defeated Michigan 69-55 in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis. The father of 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth, who befriended Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne says his daughter has died. Matt Holsworth says Lacey Holsworth died at their St. Johns, Mich., home late Tuesday, April 8, 2014 "with her mommy and daddy holding her in their arms." (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

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Updated: May 12, 2014 6:41AM



DETROIT — When Michigan State was fighting to stay afloat despite a succession of injuries to key players, Lacey Holsworth was there.

When the team rebounded to win the Big Ten tournament, the 8-year-old from St. Johns, Mich., was there.

And as the cold-shooting Spartans bowed out of the NCAA tournament at the hands of eventual champion Connecticut one win short of the Final Four, she was there.

Now, Lacey is gone.

The little girl affectionately known as “Princess Lacey” finally succumbed to the cancer that she battled since 2011. Her father, Matt Holsworth, said Lacey died at their home late Tuesday “with her mommy and daddy holding her in their arms.”

Lacey met Michigan State star Adreian Payne during one of her hospital stays, and their friendship quickly blossomed. The little girl became known to legions of basketball fans, cheering on Payne and the Spartans on Twitter as they became a popular pick to win it all this season.

“Words can’t express how much I already miss Lacey,” Payne said in a statement released by the school. “She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life. She taught me how to fight through everything with a smile on my face even when things were going wrong. I’m a better man because of her.”

When it was Payne’s turn to be honored during Senior Night, the 6-foot-10 center scooped up Lacey and carried her around the court. He did it again in Indianapolis after Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament, and the little girl with the blond wig was there when he took part in a recent slam-dunk competition.

And there she was at the Michigan State basketball banquet last month, standing next to coach Tom Izzo, who put his arm around her as he addressed the hundreds of players, families and others in attendance.

His message: What Lacey was going through put his team’s injury woes in perspective.

“I’ve learned they’re minor injuries when you look at life,” said an emotional Izzo, who paused to gather himself. “One of the greatest things I’ve done in my 30 years here” was seeing Payne interact with Lacey during a hospital visit.

“Watching that moment, I could never teach that. I could never coach that. I learned from him,” said Izzo, who said Lacey became the team’s inspiration.

Lacey watched Michigan State’s NCAA tournament run from the stands. After Payne scored a career-high 41 points to help Michigan State beat Delaware in its first tournament game, Payne talked as much about what his performance meant to Lacey as it did to the Spartans.

“It’s like having a family member who’s really sick,” he said. “The only thing you can do is play basketball. You can’t be there with them. Just knowing that when I play well, it makes her happy. It feels like I’m doing something, in a way, to make her feel better.”

Back pain while dancing in 2011 led to the discovery of a football-sized tumor that had engulfed her kidney. After another tumor wrapped around her spine, her father had to carry her into a hospital on Dec. 28, 2011. She lost feeling below her belly button and couldn’t walk on her own for several months, a long stretch that included the first of many visits from Payne.

Still, Lacey almost always was smiling when she was seen in public.

“She loved unconditionally and without hesitation,” said Matt Holsworth, who asked that others continue her legacy by doing the same.

AP



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