When news spread last week that the adorable, young 8-year-old inspiration known as Lacey Holsworth had passed away from the cancer that she suffered from for more than two years, many thought back to seeing the darling blond-haired girl sitting atop the shoulders of Michigan State superstar, Adreian Payne. On Sunday, Payne recounted some of those thoughts he had after her death.
During the Big Ten tournament, and throughout the NCAA tournament, Lacey and Payne seemed inseparable, as she would travel along with the team and could be seen sitting near courtside cheering on her favorite group, the Spartans, and her favorite player in Payne. The two had formed an incredible bond that helped to shape Payne into the role model that he's seen as today.
Sadly, her death came as a surprise to most, and Payne learned along with the rest of the world that she had passed last Tuesday night. A candlelight vigil was held in East Lansing that was attended by members of the team, including Payne, head coach Tom Izzo, and thousands of MSU students.
Then Payne received word that he was to be honored at the John R. Wooden Award gala on Friday night for his friendship with the late Holsworth. Payne received the first-ever Outreach Award at the Los Angeles Athletic Club on Friday night, just three days after Lacey had had died.
"She wouldn’t want me to be sad,” Payne told the audience. “It’s hard.”
Payne said that he almost didn't make the trip to the west coast, but that words from Lacey's father had inspired him to make the trip and accept the award.
“He told me Lacey would want me to come out,” Payne said. “It’s not just for me, it’s for her. That’s the main reason why I came.”
Payne received a standing ovation and a roaring round of applause. He hearkened back to when he picked up Lacey and put her on his shoulders and paraded her around the court after the Spartans' win over Michigan for the Big Ten Title in Indianapolis earlier this year.
“It was a great moment, especially for our team,” he said. “To be able to share with Lacy just made it even better. I feel like a part of her family.”
There was a moment of emotional difficulty as Payne recounted Michigan State's tough loss to Connecticut in the Elite Eight, saying that he felt that perhaps not just the team, but that Lacey herself had nothing left to watch for once MSU had been eliminated.
“I just wanted to keep winning games because I knew she looked forward to it,” said Payne. “Once it was over it just seemed like she had nothing else to look forward to.”
But in the end, "Princess" Lacey, as she became well-known for, served not only as an inspiration for Payne and his fellow teammates, but to everyone who came across her and had the joy of meeting her.
“I learned so much, just seeing her fight every day,” Payne added. “It’s really been hard. She taught me to preserve through anything and just be strong.”
A memorial service for "Princess" Lacey is set for this Thursday at East Lansing’s Breslin Center, Michigan State's home court.
Lacey is survived by her parents, Matt and Heather Holsworth, and three brothers: Will, Luke and Mitchell.
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.