Lacey Holsworth met Michigan State player Adreian Payne while she was in the hospital, and the two became fast friends. Lacey Holsworth would attend all the games, cheering on Payne and the other members of the team. All would come to "adopt" her as their sister. On senior night, the 6-foot-10-inch center found the 8-year-old, picked her up, and strutted around the gym. He would do it again in Indianapolis after Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament.
On Tuesday, Lacey Holsworth, whom the team affectionately dubbed "Princess Lacey," lost the battled she had fought against cancer since 2011.
Her father, Matt Holsworth, told the Associated Press, that Lacey died at their home late Tuesday "with her mommy and daddy holding her in their arms."
According to AP, in 2011, while dancing, Lacey began to feel back pain, which led to a visit to the doctor and the discovery of a football-size tumor that had engulfed her kidney. Her father had to carry her into a hospital on Dec. 28, 2011, after another tumor wrapped around her spine, causing her to lose feeling below her belly button. For several months, she could not walk on her own, and during that long stretch, Payne was there, visiting her in the hospital.
"Words can't express how much I already miss Lacey," Payne said in a statement released by the school, AP reports. "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."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, put his arm around Lacey as he addressed the hundreds of players, families and others in attendance at a Michigan State basketball banquet last month, AP reports. Michigan State players were dealing with a number of unexpected injuries.
"I've learned they're minor injuries when you look at life," said Izzo, who AP reports paused to gather himself before he continued: "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, AP reports.
While the battle with cancer was destroying Lacey's body, it never took her smile. She was rarely photographed or shown at a game without a smile.
"She loved unconditionally and without hesitation," said Matt Holsworth, who asked that others continue her legacy by doing the same, AP reports.
"Princess Lacey has taught us all an incredible lesson about love, strength and toughness," Izzo said in a statement viewed by AP. "We can all learn from her on how to handle adversity with class and dignity … At just 8 years old, she has given us all a lifetime of memories."
Read more at the Associated Press.