LOS ANGELES (CBS Detroit/AP) – Michigan State University basketball star Adreian Payne was honored at the John R. Wooden Award gala on Friday night for his friendship with a cancer-stricken 8-year-old girl.
Payne received the first Outreach Award at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. He attended the gala three days after the death of Lacey Holsworth of St. Johns, Mich., who was stricken with neuroblastoma in 2011.
“She wouldn’t want me to be sad,” Payne said. “It’s hard.”
The crowd stood to applaud Payne, who spoke softly in accepting the award, saying he nearly didn’t travel to Los Angeles after the girl’s death but was encouraged to by her father.
“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 met Holsworth during one of her hospital stays just months after the death of the grandmother who raised him. Payne brought the girl to Michigan State games over the last two years, texted with her daily, and brought her on the court during Senior Day and the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
“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.”
Michigan State lost to Connecticut in the East Regional final of the NCAA tournament on March 30.
“I just wanted to keep winning games because I knew she looked forward to it,” said Payne, a senior headed to the NBA draft. “Once it was over it just seemed like she had nothing else to look forward to.”
Holsworth joined Payne at the team’s season-ending banquet and at a slam dunk contest during the Final Four last week.
“I learned so much, just seeing her fight every day,” he said. “It’s really been hard. She taught me to preserve through anything and just be strong.”
The little girl affectionately known as “Princess Lacey,” had neuroblastoma, a nerve-cell cancer. She wore a blond wig because chemotherapy took her hair.
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.
While Lacey had some victories in her battle, the cancer kept coming back and eventually spread to her neck, head and pelvic region.
A memorial service for Holsworth is set for Thursday at Michigan State’s Breslin Center, the Spartans’ home court.
Lacey is survived by her parents, Matt and Heather Holsworth, and three brothers: Will, Mitchell and Luke.
TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.