East Lansing, Mich., continues to grieve Friday after the death of an 8-year-old girl the Michigan State University men’s basketball team counted as its biggest, most influential, fan. The little girl, affectionately known as “Princess Lacey” Holsworth, finally succumbed to the cancer she had 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.”
The family is planning a memorial service on April 17 at the Breslin Center, Michigan State’s arena. But students gathered Wednesday to paint the school’s landmark rock in Lacey’s honor, and coach Tom Izzo’s comments brought many students to tears.
“Her parents told me tonight she was smiling when she died,” Izzo said.
Lacey started having back pain while dancing in 2011. Doctors discovered a football-sized tumor that had engulfed her kidney. The little girl met Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne during one of her hospital stays two years ago, and their friendship quickly blossomed. Lacey became known to legions of basketball fans, cheering on Payne and the Spartans on Twitter as they became a popular pick to win this season’s NCAA tournament.
“Words can’t express how much I already miss Lacey,” said Payne, whose mother died in his arms after an asthma attack when he was 13. “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 on March 6, the 6-foot-10 center scooped up Lacey and carried her around the court. He did it again in Indianapolis after winning the Big Ten tournament, cutting down the net with her. She overcame a seizure to travel to New York as the cold-shooting Spartans fell one win short of the Final Four, losing to the University of Connecticut, the tournament’s eventual champion.
The little girl with the blond wig even traveled to Texas her final weekend, when Payne took part in a slam-dunk competition before the Final Four, Izzo said. “Her dad told me that when she came back on Saturday, she said, ‘Dad, I’m tired. It’s time to go home.’” Izzo shrugged his shoulders and looked up. “I think that’s home.”
Izzo called Lacey’s influence the best thing in his 30 years at Michigan State. “Hopefully she can help me be a better dad and a better coach,” he said. Lacey almost always was smiling when she was out in public. “She loved unconditionally and without hesitation,” Matt Holsworth said, asking that others continue her legacy by doing the same.
Lacey is survived by her parents, Matt and Heather Holsworth, and three brothers: Will, Mitchell, and Luke. On Wednesday, Izzo said Lacey’s influence far outstripped her tiny frame: “She wasn’t that big, she wasn’t that strong, but she sure was powerful, wasn’t she?”