, Newburyport, MA


March 22, 2014

Bilas on-board with sweetest story of NCAA tourney

The sweetest tale emerging from this year’s NCAA tournament already included big-hearted Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne and an 8-year-old fan battling cancer known as “Princess Lacey” to her Twitter followers — and now ESPN analyst Jay Bilas is aboard.

“That little girl has more toughness in her than a football or basketball team combined,” Bilas told The Associated Press on Friday, explaining why he reversed his longtime policy of not following anyone on Twitter and began following young Lacey Holsworth.

“Wait, what?!?! @JayBilas follows ME??????” @adorable Lacey tweeted in a response loaded with emoticons. “thank you!!”

Now, there’s just one thing that would make the story better.

“She had a seizure yesterday and started to perk up a little this evening,” Lacey’s father, Matt Holsworth said late Thursday night, not long after Payne scored 41 points in an MSU victory that provided the family with a welcome distraction from his daughter’s struggle against neuroblastoma, a fetal-nerve cell cancer. “She’s been in bed for most of the last two days and she was only able to watch a few minutes. But every time she looked at the TV, Adreian was doing a lot.

“The doctors switched some her medications around,” he added a moment later, “So hopefully tomorrow will be a better day, and the day after that will go even better.”

After the game, Payne, who’s practically become a son to the Holsworths in the two years since they first met, talked as much about what his performance meant to Lacey as it did to the Spartans.

“It’s like having a family member who’s really sick,” he said. “The only thing you can do is play basketball. You can’t be there with them. Just knowing that when I play well, it makes her happy. It feels like I’m doing something, in a way, to make her feel better.”

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