(USA Today) The death of 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth, whose battle with cancer and friendship with Michigan State basketball became national stories, has inspired an outpouring of support and mourning today.
It inspired emotion from MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, who said in a phone interview: "I'm supposed to be a guy who leads men, and now an 8-year-old has impacted my life like this. … the impact on all of us will be lasting, and that's especially true for Adreian (Payne)."
It inspired ESPN analyst Dick Vitale to call Lacey's father, Matt Holsworth, and tell him he's going to donate $250,000 in her name, with fund raising starting now at dickvitaleonline.com.
"I can't believe it," Vitale said of Lacey's death in a phone interview before sobbing for several seconds. "This rips my heart out, man."
Lacey's family posted the following on Instagram around 3 a.m.: "Princess Lacey has achieved the ultimate victory. She now dances among angels.... The world is a better place because you were in it. Our hearts are broken. We love you Doll. Dance all night... Mommy and Daddy, Will, Mitchell and Luke #LoveLikeLacey"
Lacey, of St. Johns, became especially close with MSU senior forward Payne, starting more than two years ago when the team visited her at Lansing's Sparrow Hospital. A tumor had wrapped around her spine at the time, limiting her ability to walk. Treatments eventually removed the cancer from her body, but it returned in the fall and her condition worsened in recent weeks.
In that time, she accompanied Payne on his senior night at Breslin Center, helped cut down the nets after MSU won the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, and made appearances on "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America." She was with Payne last week in Texas, cheering him on in a slam dunk contest.
Izzo said he talked to Payne around 7 this morning about Lacey's passing.
"Even though he knew this was inevitable, it's hard," Izzo said of Payne. "But he took it with the class and dignity that she taught him. I told him, 'Not everybody gets to touch somebody's life like you have. And sometimes other people impact your life, too.'"
Izzo also spoke on the phone with Vitale, who had Lacey and Payne as his guests at his annual Dick Vitale Gala to fight cancer last spring in Sarasota, Fla. Izzo said he was blown away by the emotion and determination from Vitale.
"His passion for this," Izzo said of Vitale and fighting cancer, "makes my passion for basketball look like an ant."
Many have expressed their support on Twitter, including ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who posted: "RIP Lacey Holsworth. A beautiful soul, whose strength and courage touched and inspired us all. Heartbreaking."
Joe Rexrode also writes for the Detroit Free Press.