You may know Adreian Payne. The 6-foot-10 senior is a powerful part of Michigan State's hoops lineup, and the Spartans are tearing their way through the NCAA Tournament. But Payne is much more than a star player. He's got the love and admiration of a very special little girl.
Lacey Holsworth is an 8-year-old with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. She and Payne met about two years ago, when Payne and his teammates were visiting a children's hospital, according to Club 93.7.com, the website for WRCL-FM. Since that visit, Payne has become like a brother to Lacey. They text all the time. He calls her "Princess." And through the bad times -- losses, medical difficulties -- and good, the pair have remained close.
If you think this is just another athlete looking to get some good press, think again. This is the real deal. When Payne was honored at the Spartan's Senior Night in early March, Lacey was there. When the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament, Lacey was there, helping Payne cut down a portion of the net. Payne has made sure Lacey is part of the Michigan State family -- and in turn, he is part of hers. She even calls him her "big brother" on Twitter.
"It's crazy, the things she's had to go through," dad Matt Holsworth told the Detroit Free Press. "But Adreian kind of helps break that up. They keep fighting for each other. He's fighting on the basketball court and in the classroom, and she's fighting for her life."
Last week, little Lacey got another big surprise. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas followed her on Twitter. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you check his profile, you get the idea: Bilas has 663,000 followers, but only follows only one person -- Lacey. The analyst said he broke his policy of not following anyone because Lacey and Payne's story was too good not to acknowledge.
"She's an example of what real courage is, real toughness is, real fight is. She's amazing, and so are Adreian Payne and Tom Izzo (Payne's coach)," he told the Detroit Free Press.
And, as always, her "big brother" was there to support her. Payne tweeted to Bilas, "Thank you for what you have done for Lil Lacey, for just following her she was so happy.."
In all likelihood, Lacey's fight for her life won't be getting easier anytime soon. She said she recently had a seizure, and neuroblastoma is not an easy disease to handle. But Payne, and the whole Michigan State family, are making sure she feels the love.