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March Madness Cinderella Story: Little Girl With Cancer Inspires Michigan State Win

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(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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By Lauren Chiong

March Madness is in full swing, and one of the highlights has been watching Adreian Payne’s jaw-dropping performance on the court. The Michigan State Spartans center scored 41 points during a second-round victory over Delaware, a career high for the athlete, according to Fox Sports.

Yet few might realize the inspiring stories behind Payne’s victory and his journey to becoming a definite first-round candidate for the NBA draft. In a sport filled with monster-sized egos, Payne’s inspiration comes from an unlikely person: a little girl with cancer named Lacey Holsworth. The adorable eight-year-old is fighting neuroblastoma, a cancer affecting the nerves.

Lacey and Payne became fast friends when the Spartans visited her hospital room in 2011, CBS Sacramento reports.

The two formed an immediate bond when Payne sat down next to her. Lacey asked him to stay when most of the other players had to leave. The pair have been fast friends ever since and are now close enough to call each other “brother and sister.”

Lacey is never far from Payne’s thoughts, both off the court and on, and she inspires him to strive for excellence in his game.

“She’s fighting cancer and I’ve never known anyone going through that,” said Payne told Fox Sports. “It’s tough. You can definitely grow from watching her. I fight, too, but I’m just playing basketball. She can be tired, real fatigued, and still be giving it her all.”

Payne himself was diagnosed as cognitively disabled from a young age, and overcame significant hurdles to become the winner of Michigan State’s scholar-athlete award, CBS Sacramento reports.

Lacey unfortunately suffered a seizure on Tuesday, March 18. In spite of the setback, she drew strength and cheer from watching Payne’s impressive game. She posted the following on her Instagram account:

“Princess Lacey had a seizure on Tuesday and has not been feeling very well. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers. She is resting at home and was able to keep track of her brother @adreian_payne huge game last night. She was very happy for him and as always it brought a smile to her face to see his on the tv screen. She has known all along that he’s Superman! Thank you for your continued prayers as she starts to feel better and better. I’m sure she will be back to the twitter/Instagram world soon!”

Lacey misses her “Superman.” She shared this touching post on Instagram, captioning it “Please give my big brother @adreian_payne a hug from me today if you see him! 💚😊 💚 He is very far away from home and I miss him😔❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️😔”:

No doubt Payne feels the same way. “She’s like a sister to me,” he told Fox Sports, and vowed that he would keep in close contact with her, no matter where his journey takes him.

To donate to Lacey’s Give Forward campaign, click here.

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