The most positive thing Butch Beard found after being hired this summer as the Howard University basketball coach was that he was getting a veteran team.

The bad news was learning that the returning group was responsible for a 17-39 record over the past two seasons, including 8-20 last year. The team was fragmented, a result of unhappiness with each other on the court and divided loyalty off the court to former coach A.B. Williamson. Few players could even be found eating at the same table in the cafeteria.

"Losing will do that," said Beard, 43, who spent nine seasons in the National Basketball Association and the last six years as an assistant with the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets.

Beard is not ready to predict he can quickly make a winner of the team he inherited, but he promises many things will be different.

The Bison have been off and running -- literally -- since the first day of practice. Gone is the methodical, halfcourt style that Williamson felt was necessary for a young team without a big man.

Beard's Bison press full court from the opening tap. The offense is filled with crisp passes and motion. Most of all, Howard will go into its Nov. 23 opener at Wake Forest as a happy group.

"We have a lot of talent, but we had to fine-tune talent and attitudes, and Coach Beard has done that," said 6-foot-8 senior Tyrone Powell. "Last year, we were divided, and when you have dissension off the court, it comes back on the court. We had talent, but we didn't know how to win games."

Powell will be a prime project for Beard. The second-team all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference selection from Forestville High averaged 10.7 points and seven rebounds. Because of his size, he often was forced to play inside. Sometimes he was a power forward. Occasionally, he moved to what is probably his best spot, small forward (he made 44.7 percent of his three-point attempts).

Beard will be able to keep Powell outside because the new running style should get more out of 6-8 center Charles Chase, a junior who set rebounding records at Paint Branch High and Hagerstown Community College.

"I felt my athletic ability -- my quickness for a big man -- wasn't being used the way we were playing," said Chase, who averaged 5.2 points and only 3.3 rebounds last year. "This offense has energy. When {Beard} said we are going to run the floor, I said, 'That's my game.' "

But last season the Bison did not shoot successfully (40.6 percent from the floor), rebound or play middle defense. A true center is still lacking, but Beard hopes end-to-end pressure can make up for some deficiencies.

The full-court game should be well-suited to 6-2 junior guard Martin Huckaby and 6-0 sophomore guard Milan Brown. And former Friendly High star Skip Bynum, a starting guard early in his career at Howard but a reserve as a junior last season, says the results of the new style will be quickly evident.

"Last year, we started to question whether we could win," said Bynum. "This year, the guys feel much better about the situation. We are pushing it up the floor. . . . Hopefully, everybody outside the team thinks we won't do much and we can catch them by surprise."