Speaking at a vigil on the Michigan State campus for 8-year-old Lacy Holsworth Wednesday night, coach Tom Izzo gave a tearful speech about the little girl that became something of a mascot for the Spartans’ men’s basketball team. Princess Lacey, as they called her, lost her battle with cancer over the weekend and hundreds gathered at “the rock” on the East Lansing campus to pay tribute to the girl that in such a short time touched the lives of so many.
Izzo spoke at length to the crowd, saying that Lacey’s parents told him she was smiling when she died and there is a lesson to be learned by all about how she handled her sickness.
“If you can take something from a bad situation and make it good, like when you’re struggling and finals are coming up or you’re going through tough times,” he said, holding back tears. “Think how lucky you are to have what you have. And learn from [Lacy] that you don’t have to be the biggest or the strongest to be tough.”
Lacy Holsworth’s friendship with the Spartans basketball team, and especially senior forward Adreian Payne, began two years ago when the team visited patients at Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital. Lacey was recovering from having surgery to remove a tumor from her spine and she and Payne quickly hit it off. Izzo said the two had frequent visits and Payne took Lacey to an event last spring that was held by Dick Vitale to raise money for cancer research. Lacey’s cancer was in remission at the time, but would resurface in the fall. Lacy was recovering from another surgery, Izzo recalled, when Payne went to visit her. She was so weak, he said, that she would not wake up for anything, until Payne arrived.
The tumors reportedly made an aggressive return this winter and, through it all, the bond between Payne and Lacy grew stronger. From senior night Mar. 6 to the College Slam Dunk Contest last Saturday, Lacy was everywhere Payne was, tugging at the world’s heart strings. She joined Payne on the basketball court during the senior night ceremony at the Breslin Center for Michigan State’s final home game; she joined Payne in cutting down the nets when the Spartans won the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis; She was with the team in New York for the East Regional and was with Payne in Dallas for the Dunk Contest.
The unlikely friendship between Payne and Lacey became the feel-good story of the basketball season and her death has shattered hearts everywhere. Izzo, in an interview with the Detroit News, said both Payne and Lacey had an incredible impact on each other’s lives and Payne is now a better person for it. Tiny Lacey had more of an impact on all the team’s big, strong athletes, Izzo said, than anybody, particularly Payne. He added that most people go a lifetime without helping anyone and Payne did it starting at 21 years old.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat