Michigan State may have just missed a spot in the Final Four, but Spartans star Adreian Payne still emerged as an ultimate winner. Now Payne is taking the person who stole America’s hearts along with him to judge the High School Slam Dunk Contest.
Meet Lacey Holsworth. The 8-year-old Michigan native gained fame as Payne’s cheerleader during the 2013-14 season and, particularly, during the NCAA tournament. The Spartans star first met Holsworth two years ago when he was visiting juvenile cancer patients with his Michigan State teammates. The bond between the two expanded from that first meeting, and two years later Payne began incorporating Lacey, who suffers from neuroblastoma, in everything he did on the court.
She was there when the Michigan State seniors cut down the nets on Senior Night. She was there when Payne and his teammates were suffering through a tough stretch of the Big Ten schedule. She even brought him brownies after a loss.
Now, according to Payne, she will be a guest judge for the High School Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Championships (HS Slam) on April 6.
Guest judging is the latest act that ties Payne to Holsworth, who considers the Michigan State star a fourth brother. If there was any question about just how close the two are, they should be answered by Holsworth’s father, who was interviewed by Good Morning America:
“They’re kind of like friends, brother or sister…They’re very comfortable around each other and play games and or color,” said Lacey’s father Matt Holsworth. “They have a bond that’s special.
“It’s a blessing for our hearts and to see them encourage each other. I think they both feed off each other and give each other straight [advice], they both just want to help each other.”
As for Payne, he just regrets not being able to do even more for one of his best and most important friends.
“It’s hard and it’s like having a family member that’s really sick and ill,” Payne told the Detroit Free-Press. “The only thing you can do is just play basketball and you can’t be there with them. And just knowing that when I play well it makes her happy, it feels like I’m doing something in a way to help her feel better.”
Together, they’re making everyone feel better.
The American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships showcase 16 of the nation’s top high school basketball players to compete during Final Four weekend. The event will air from 4-5 p.m. ET April 6 on CBS.