It's an unlikely friendship:   high-profile college basketball player forms a lasting bond with child battling a rare form of cancer.  What could have been just a photo op for Michigan State's Adreian Payne has turned into the relationship of a lifetime with 8-year old Lacey Holsworth and her family.

Little Lacey, who battles a rare form of nerve cancer known as neuroblastoma, met Payne two years ago when the baller paid a visit to a local children's hospital. Payne was immediately taken by Lacey's fierce optimism.

At 6-foot-10, the diminutive 8-year-old calls Payne 'Superman' for the way he flies through the air and dunks a basketball.  But Payne thinks it's Lacey who's the real hero, telling Detroit Free Press, "She's incredible with everything she's gone through. [Doctors] told her she wouldn't walk again. But she did. She's just an incredible fighter. And if I can bring her a little bit of happiness to help her forget everything for a little while, then that's what I want to do."

Play the SoJO 104.9 Million Dollar Bracket Challenge

Since they're first meeting Payne has paid regular visits to the Holsworth family home, and to Lacey's hospital bedside.  He recently found himself there when Lacey suffered a setback.  Family members say Lacey was barely able to open her eyes until her 'Superman' stood before her with a new stuffed animal.

 

Instagram

 

 

Payne has invited Lacey and her family to many a Michigan State game, and when his team reached a milestone game-winner, Payne lifted Lacey to help him cut down the net from the backboard.

Payne's biggest social media fan is Lacey herself, whose Instagram page is filled with sweet photos of the pair.  She calls Adreian her 'Forever Brother'.

At 13, Payne's mother died in his arms following a severe asthma attack while he frantically searched for her inhaler, according to People.com.

So, by now I think you know I'm rooting for Michigan State to win March Madness.