Payne received the first Outreach Award at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. He attended the gala three days after the death of Lacey Holsworth, of St. Johns, Mich., who was stricken with neuroblastoma in 2011.
''She wouldn't want me to be sad,'' Payne said. ''It's hard.''
The crowd stood to applaud Payne, who spoke softly in accepting the award, saying he nearly didn't travel to Los Angeles after the girl's death but was encouraged to by her father.
''He told me Lacey would want me to come out,'' Payne said. ''It's not just for me, it's for her. That's the main reason why I came.''
Payne met Holsworth during one of her hospital stays just months after the death of the grandmother who raised him. Payne brought the girl to Michigan State games during the past two years, texted with her daily, and brought her on the court during Senior Night and the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
''It was a great moment, especially for our team,'' he said. ''To be able to share with Lacey just made it even better. I feel like a part of her family.''
Michigan State lost to Connecticut in the East Regional final of the NCAA tournament on March 30.
''I just wanted to keep winning games because I knew she looked forward to it,'' said Payne, a senior headed to the NBA draft. ''Once it was over it just seemed like she had nothing else to look forward to.''
Holsworth joined Payne at the team's season-ending banquet and at a slam-dunk contest during the Final Four last week.
''I learned so much, just seeing her fight every day,'' he said. ''It's really been hard. She taught me to preserve through anything and just be strong.''
A memorial service for Holsworth is set for Thursday at Michigan State's Breslin Center, the Spartans' home court.