Alex McCready sat in his hospital room, decorated with a Spartan-green basketball theme, when suddenly the real deal appeared before him.

Five towering Michigan State University players walked in and surrounded the 16-year-old boy’s bed, greeting him with hellos and smiles. Alex looked up and beamed.

“Oh, this is a good surprise,” he said.

The Spartans’ visit with Alex and other young patients was part of a rousing Christmas-in-July celebration at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

In the hospital’s Balk Café, kids followed a “Candy Land” path through a field of treats. They picked up candies, played carnival games and created crafts. They even had a chance to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

It’s very special to me to put a smile on the kids’ faces. It’s definitely heartwarming.

Xavier Tillman
MSU freshman

The basketball players greeted kids at the event on the main floor, and then went upstairs to visit some patients in their rooms.

Alex, a Spartan fan “since day 1,” said his parents kept the visit from the basketball players a secret until they walked in the door. But it took just a hot second to recognize his heroes.

“When you see five giant guys walking in, you get the hint,” he said. “It was amazing. I’ve always wanted to meet them. I never would have thought that would happen.”

Alex, who is from Sault Ste. Marie, admired the players’ willingness to visit patients to boost their spirits.

“I think it’s amazing they do so much for the community,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

The teammates also met with Nicolette Simpson, a 13-year-old sports fan from Howard City. She gave each player a warm hug.

“I never thought I would meet them in my life,” she said. “You guys are so good.”

The visit made a big impression on the players, as well.

“When I was 12, I got diagnosed with bacterial meningitis,” said Joshua Langford, a sophomore guard. “Being able to do this is just great because I remember how I was feeling when I was sick. So just being able to put a smile on another kid’s face is great.”

Xavier Tillman, an MSU freshman and a graduate of Grand Rapids Christian High School, said this was his first visit to a children’s hospital.

“It’s very special to me to put a smile on the kids’ faces,” he said. “It’s definitely heartwarming. It’s amazing to me that I got put in a situation to be able to make kids smile like this. This is just the greatest feeling.”