8-year-old girl befriended by hoops star dies

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Michigan State forward Adreian Payne, right, hoists the net with Lacey Holsworth, who is battling cancer and has become close to Payne, after Michigan State defeated Michigan 69-55 in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Big Ten Conference tournament on Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Michigan State forward Adreian Payne, right, hoists the net with Lacey Holsworth, who is battling cancer and has become close to Payne, after Michigan State defeated Michigan 69-55 in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Big Ten Conference tournament on Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Michigan State’s Gary Harris, left, poses with the championship trophy as Adreian Payne kisses it after they defeated Michigan 69-55 in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Big Ten Conference tournament on Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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DETROIT (AP) — Lacey Holsworth, the 8-year-old girl with cancer who befriended Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne and inspired the team to make her happy by playing well, has died, the girl’s father said.

Matt Holsworth said Lacey died at their St. Johns, Mich., home late Tuesday “with her mommy and daddy holding her in their arms.” Lacey met Payne during one of her hospital stays two years ago, and their friendship quickly blossomed.

“Please don’t let her love and smile fade,” Matt Holsworth told The Associated Press in a text message.

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.

“She loved unconditionally and without hesitation,” Holsworth said. “Spreading her smile and love throughout the world.”

The little girl affectionately known as “Princess Lacey,” had neuroblastoma, a fetal-nerve cell cancer. She wore a blond wig because chemotherapy took her hair.

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 one 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.

Associated Press

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